One last chance for older dirt horses to claim a marquee victory in 2023 comes Friday in the $600,000 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs. The Grade 2 race will not change any Eclipse Awards ballots, but it could showcase a major threat for the biggest winter tests in 2024, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes, Saudi Cup, and Dubai World Cup.
Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare
1. Straight Arrow (8-1 morning-line odds): Comes in off a sharp win in the Empire Classic Stakes for New York State-breds. Looks to be in career-best form but will face his toughest test in this field.
2. First Mission (3-1): Trainer Brad Cox liked this 3-year-old’s chances in the Preakness Stakes until an injury knocked him out of the classic. Returned six months later with a game allowance win and his sharp workouts since then indicate he’s poised for a big effort here.
3. Il Miracolo (4-1): Three-year-old has blossomed with a string of competitive efforts in graded stakes. In his first try against older horses, he was second by a head in the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland. If he takes a step forward off that, he’ll be a major player.
4. Gasoline (5-1): Caught fire last time out, winning by more than five lengths in a Churchill Downs allowance race. Displayed some promise early in his career and cannot be ignored here.
5. Trademark (6-1): Didn’t fire in the Hagyard Fayette Stakes but was in great form before that. Put in a sharp blowout for this race and is a candidate to bounce back with a strong effort.
6. Film Star (5-1): Ran competitively enough in Grade 2 stakes, finishing fourth in the Forty Niner Stakes and second in the Woodward Stakes. Matches up nicely with most of the field and should not be ignored.
7. Giant Game (12-1): Was a distant second to Gasoline in the allowance race and has yet to show he can be a factor at this Grade 2 level.
THE PICK: First Mission
LIVE LONGSHOT: Trademark