September 23, 2023

Clark Handicap: The Top 10 Best Winners

Gun Runner notched his third stakes win at Churchill Downs when rolling to a convincing tally over older horses in the Clark H. (G1) on November 25, 2016 (c) Churchill Downs/Coady Photography

The Clark H. (G1) will be run for the 144th time on Friday and, like the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), it has been run at Churchill Downs without interruption since 1875 (it was inaugurated on the final day — May 22 — of that first Louisville Jockey Club meeting).

The Clark’s conditions have seen more variance in its history than either the Derby or Oaks. First run as a two-mile race for three-year-olds, it was later shortened to 1 1/4 miles and then to 1 1/8 miles. It remained restricted to sophomores through 1901, after which it was open to older horses. For much of the first half of the 20th century, the Clark was run at 1 1/16 miles, but was extended back to nine furlongs in 1955. It was also formerly a staple of Churchill’s Spring Meet.

After many decades as an event dominated by local and regional handicap stars, the Clark rose in stature after its purse was increased in the late 1990s. It was eventually awarded Grade 1 status.

Here’s one man’s opinion on the 10 best Clark winners.

10) Swoon’s Son (1958)

A dominating figure in late 1950s Chicago racing, he won 22 stakes over four seasons and raked in $970,605 in an era when equine millionaires were few in number. Despite rare appearances outside his Midwest domain, he was a 2007 Hall of Fame inductee by vote of the Hall’s Historical Review Committee.

9) Saint Liam (2004)

One of a number of modern winners that used the Clark as a stepping-stone to bigger things, he earned his first career stakes win in the race after running Horse of the Year Ghostzapper to a neck in the Woodward (G1). He would earn his own Horse of the Year title in 2005 after winning the Donn H. (G1), Stephen Foster H. (G1), Woodward, and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

8) Old Rosebud (1917)

Celebrated gelding won 14 of his first 16 starts, including the 1914 Kentucky Derby over future two-time Clark winner Hodge. Out of action nearly three years due to infirmities, he won 15 times upon his return to the track in 1917 and was judged by historians the leading older horse of that season. He won 40 of 80 career starts through age 11, when he suffered a fatal injury, and was a 1968 Hall of Fame inductee.

7) Blame (2009)

A late-developing colt, he won both the Fayette (G2) and Clark at three. In 2010, he won four of five starts, concluding his career with a dramatic head victory over the then-unbeaten super mare Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That, plus wins in the Stephen Foster and Whitney H. (G1), earned him champion older male honors.

6) Gun Runner (2016)

Also a winner of the Clark to conclude his three-year-old campaign, he became a significant force at age four. Losing only once, to Arrogate, in the Dubai World Cup (G1), he returned the favor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic after accumulating wins in the Stephen Foster, Whitney, and Woodward. Horse of the Year in 2017, he concluded his career with a 2 1/2 length win in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) this past January with total earnings just shy of $16 million.

5) Silver Charm (1998)

Hall of Fame colt won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (G1) and narrowly missed sweeping the 1997 Triple Crown. Trainer Bob Baffert’s first champion, the Clark was one of six stakes wins by him at age four, when he also captured the Dubai World Cup and narrowly missed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill.

4) Wise Dan (2011)

The Clark was the most significant win on dirt for this gelding, who developed into the leading turf miler of his era and was twice awarded Horse of the Year honors. A graded stakes winner going long and short and over dirt, turf, and synthetic, his top-level wins included two renewals each of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Woodbine Mile, Maker’s 46 Mile, Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, and Shadwell Turf Mile.

3) Exterminator (1922)

“Old Bones,” often linked with Kelso, Forego, and John Henry as one of the four great geldings of 20th century U.S. racing, won the 1918 Kentucky Derby in his season debut. He ultimately won 50 of 99 starts, and was most noted as the leading “Cup Horse” (i.e. stakes at 1 3/4 miles and beyond) of his era. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame’s third class in 1957 alongside contemporaries Grey Lag, Man o’ War, and Sir Barton

2) Hindoo (1881)

An inductee in the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1955, he won 31 of 36 career starts and was never out of the money. The Kentucky Derby, Clark, and Travers were among 18 consecutive races the colt won at age three, and he bankrolled more than $72,000, a record for that era.

1) Whirlaway (1942)

Nearly a year after winning the Kentucky Derby by eight lengths (and subsequently the Triple Crown), “Mr. Longtail” returned to Churchill for the Clark, winning by a head for his first stakes win of the 1942 season. The 1959 Hall of Fame inductee would win nine more and earn a second consecutive Horse of the Year title for owner Calumet Farm and trainer Ben Jones.