January 27, 2023

Proxy wears down West Will Power to earn first stakes trophy in Clark

Proxy (left) outstays a game West Will Power in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs (Photo by Coady Photography)

Hitherto a stakes bridesmaid, Proxy wore down West Will Power to win his first trophy in Friday’s $750,000 Clark (G1). Jockey Joel Rosario swept both graded stakes on the Churchill Downs card, previously steering Bubble Rock to victory in the $300,000 Mrs. Revere (G2).

Clark (G1)

Much of the Clark build-up revolved around Kentucky Derby (G1) upsetter Rich Strike, who was coming off a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. Aiming to become the first in 121 years to turn the Derby/Clark double in the same season, the deep closer was sent off as the 2.44-1 second choice back at his favorite track. Rich Strike made a short-lived attempt to improve position in the Clark, but failed to threaten and wound up last of six. Perhaps it was a bridge too far at the end of a memorable year.

In contrast, Proxy was fresh off a nearly five-month layoff for trainer Mike Stidham. The Godolphin homebred was last seen finishing third in the July 2 Stephen Foster (G2) over this same 1 1/8-mile trip at Churchill—his sixth career stakes placing. Often a dour type who can find himself outpaced, Proxy tipped his hand early in the Clark that he was a lot sharper.

As 1.78-1 favorite West Will Power dashed forward to lead, Proxy unexpectedly cast himself in the role of pace monitor. The 2.54-1 third choice showed tactical speed from the start on the rail. By the time West Will Power clocked an opening quarter in :23.94, Rosario guided Proxy off the fence into an outside stalking spot, and the match race was on. West Will Power carved out splits of :48.51 and 1:12.76, with Proxy hovering to keep him honest.

Rounding the far turn, Proxy increased the pressure, but floated wide swinging into the stretch. That helped West Will Power gain some separation upon straightening, and the Brad Cox trainee was all heart in trying to hold onto it.

Proxy was relentless, however, for the duration. Staying on determinedly, the son of Tapit and multiple Grade 1 victress Panty Raid overhauled West Will Power by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:48.89.

“I was a little shocked he showed as much speed as he did,” Stidham said. “That could have been because of how fresh he was coming off the layoff.”

Rosario was well familiar with the opposition. He rode West Will Power to his front-running romp in the Fayette (G2) last out, intelligence that he put to use aboard Proxy.

“This was his first start in a few months, so he was a little sharper leaving the gate,” Rosario recapped. “He was a little bit farther back in his last start here in the Stephen Foster than I expected him to be. I knew (West Will Power) was really the only horse that had early speed in the race, so I didn’t want to let him get away easily. He was very professional today throughout.

“(West Will Power) didn’t want to give in. He was very tough on the lead, and I had to work pretty hard to get by him.”

Cox’s other runner, Fulsome, rallied from last to take third, another 2 1/2 lengths adrift of West Will Power.

“Both horses tried really hard,” Cox said of his second and third. “West Will Power was fighting hard on the lead and just got beat at the wire. There wasn’t a whole lot of pace, but I thought Fulsome was able to run well given how the pace turned out.”

Last Samurai, Injunction, and Rich Strike concluded the order of finish. Trademark was scratched in favor of Sunday’s Commonwealth Turf (G3).

Rich Strike’s trainer, Eric Reed, admitted that the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic might have left its mark.

“He was in a good position at the rail, but turning for home he didn’t have anything left at all,” Reed said. “We knew it was a big risk running him back in three weeks. Sometimes you’re the hero and sometimes you’re the goat.”

Proxy’s Clark breakthrough improved his resume to 13-4-5-2, $971,220. On the 2021 Kentucky Derby trail, the bay was runner-up in the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2), and fourth in both the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Lexington (G3). Proxy returned to action Feb. 25 with a dynamic allowance score at Fair Grounds, suggesting he was poised to make an impact on the older male division. But he clung to his minor-award habit in the New Orleans Classic (G2), Ben Ali (G3), Blame S., and the aforementioned Stephen Foster.

Proxy is the second stakes performer produced by Panty Raid, following Grade 2 turf vixen Micheline. Panty Raid is herself a full sister to Grade 2 winner St. John’s River, the 2011 Kentucky Oaks (G1) runner-up. Both are daughters of Include, who also factors as the broodmare sire of Friday’s Comely (G3) heroine, Sixtythreecaliber.

Now that he’s gotten a taste of stakes success, Proxy has no shortage of possible goals. On that prospective list is the Dubai World Cup (G1), which Stidham won in 2021 with Godolphin homebred Mystic Guide.

“There are a lot of options now going forward,” Stidham said. “I’d love to get back to the Dubai World Cup, but going into 2023 there’s a lot still on the table after a win like today.”

Mrs. Revere (G2)

Cox had to settle for the minors in the Clark, but his filly Bubble Rock never had an anxious moment in the Mrs. Revere. Teaming up with Rosario as the 1.66-1 favorite, she coasted on the front end through fractions of :24.17, :49.26, and 1:13.75 over the firm turf. The Shortleaf Stable homebred kept galloping to cross the wire a 1 1/4-length winner while completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.05.

As if further illustration of the race shape were needed, the longshot stalkers effectively maintained their positions as well. The 34-1 Joyful Applause was second at nearly every call, and the 38-1 Take a Stand salvaged third from a surging Lovely Princess, who was briefly on hold for room.

Next came Quality Star, She’s Gone, Lady Puchi, Fancy Martini, California Angel, and Sweet Lady Ivanka. California Angel was hampered in traffic, forced to check in midstretch, but she arguably wasn’t going well enough to trouble the principals from that far back. Have a Good Day was scratched.

Bubble Rock was earning her third stakes victory, following last year’s Matron (G3) at Belmont Park and the March 5 Cincinnati Trophy on the Turfway Tapeta. The More Than Ready filly tried dirt in the Apr. 2 Fantasy (G3), placing a creditable third at Oaklawn Park, but the result reiterated that she’s a turf/synthetic performer at heart.

Off until the fall, Bubble Rock resumed with a sixth in the Sept. 13 Music City S. at Kentucky Downs and a better fourth on the stretch-out in the Oct. 28 Valley View (G3) at Keeneland. The third start off the layoff here was the charm, and she has compiled a record of 10-4-2-1, $508,793.

The Kentucky-bred is out of Reef Point, a Giant’s Causeway half-sister to Korean celebrity Blue Chipper who finished third in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Bubble Rock’s second dam, Grade 2 winner Dixie City, is herself a full sister to the dam of Grade 2 hero Unified.