July 24, 2024

First Mission tackles stakes elders in Clark

First Mission wins the Lexington Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

The $600,000 Clark (G2) has often showcased up-and-coming three-year-olds for much of its 149-year history, Gun Runner, Will Take Charge, and Blame being recent examples. First Mission will look to join that illustrious list on Friday when the Brad Cox trainee faces older stakes rivals for the first time in the nine-furlong test at Churchill Downs.

First Mission has won three of four, including a half-length success in the Lexington (G3) last April over future Grade 1 winner Arabian Lion. However, First Mission was sidelined prior to an intended start in the Preakness (G1), and did not get back to the races until Oct. 14, when he was up on time to take a second-level allowance at Keeneland by a neck.

The other three-year-old in this year’s Clark is significantly more battle tested. Friday’s race will mark the 11th start this season for Il Miracolo, who landed the Smarty Jones (G3) at Parx three back and subsequently finished third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and second by a head in the Fayette (G2).

The older candidates in the Clark are generally more exposed and have shown greater inconsistency this season. One exception is stakes newcomer Gasoline, a 5 1/4-length winner of his allowance prep earlier this month over Grade 3 scorer Giant Game. Blue Devil also remains with upside after a close third-place run in the Sept. 30 Lukas Classic (G2) in his stakes debut.

Woodward (G2) runner-up Film Star steps back up in trip after running a flat fourth in the one-mile Forty Niner (G2) at Aqueduct last time. Trademark and Happy American both exit sub-par efforts in the Fayette (G2), while Grade 3-placed Stage Raider, a half-brother to Triple Crown winner Justify, looks to rebound off an ineffective performance in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). New York-bred Straight Arrow completes the field.

The supporting feature is the $300,000 Mrs. Revere (G2), a 1 1/16-mile grass test for three-year-old fillies. Neecie Marie was a narrowly beaten second to European raider Eternal Hope in both the Jockey Club Oaks (G3) and Sands Point (G2) in her last two, and might go off favored.

Heavenly Sunday and Safeen, both graded winners over the spring and summer, are also among the field of 12.