The last two winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Diversify and Hoppertunity, are among nine entered in Friday’s $500,000 Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/8-mile race won 12 months ago by Gun Runner, the presumptive 2017 Horse of the Year.
The co-highweights at 123 pounds, the pair enter with starkly different profiles. Diversify, a lightly-raced four-year-old, has won seven of 10 starts, punctuated by a wire-to-wire, one-length win over Keen Ice in the October 7 Gold Cup at Belmont. The New York-bred gelding passed on the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) earlier this month in favor of the Clark.
Hoppertunity, age six, is a veteran of 27 races, including three previous starts in the Clark. Winner of the race as a three-year-old in 2014, he was a close second to the late Effinex in 2015, and fourth to Gun Runner last season. He turned the tables on Effinex by a half-length in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last October.
Winner of the San Antonio (G2) over Mor Spirit in his season debut, Hoppertunity has raced just twice since, finishing sixth in the Dubai World Cup (G1) and second in the $73,000 Comma to the Top over a mile at Santa Anita last month.
“He’s back and doing well,” trainer Bob Baffert said of Hoppertunity last week. “He’s always been right there all the time. He’s made $4 million by being right there and has always been a barn favorite.”
Hoppertunity will again try to become the first two-time winner of the Clark in non-consecutive years. Hodge (1915-16), Bold Favorite (1968-69), and Bob’s Dusty (1977-78) are the previous dual winners.
Honorable Duty appeared to dislike the slop in last month’s Fayette (G2) at Keeneland when trailing the field of six, more than 19 lengths behind The Player. But the Brendan Walsh trainee built up a strong resume earlier in the season, capturing the Mineshaft H. (G3), New Orleans H. (G2), and Lukas Classic (G3), and finishing second in the Alysheba (G2) and the Stephen Foster H. (G1), the latter to Gun Runner.
The Player is in peak form for Buff Bradley and won the Fayette convincingly by three lengths over Neolithic, with McCraken third. The son of Street Hero has been first or second in all three graded appearances.
Destin, who captured the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and finished second in the Belmont S. (G1) by a nose in 2016, outstayed seven rivals earlier this month in the 1 3/4-mile Marathon (G2) at Del Mar. Good Samaritan, who beat classic winners Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing in the Jim Dandy (G2) in July, is the only sophomore in the lineup but has form to find after running a distant fourth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Multiple Grade 3-placed Seeking the Soul enters off a dominating nine-length allowance score at Keeneland on October 21 for Dallas Stewart. The Clark’s longer shots are Mo Tom and Goats Town.
Eleven three-year-old fillies make up the field for the $200,000 Mrs. Revere (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Daddys Lil Darling is the likely favorite for Kenny McPeek following a recent success in the $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs and a close second to La Coronel in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1).
Lovely Bernadette captured Keeneland’s other fall highlight for three-year-old turf fillies, the Valley View (G3), over Journey Home, I’m Betty G, and Pucker Up (G3) winner Fault. Also in with a chance is Westit, a daughter of Tapit who debuts here for Graham Motion following a seventh against older fillies in the Athenia (G3).