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Contentious Clark yields contrarian selection

By James Scully

Six of the 10 Clark (G1) runners are multiple graded stakes-winning millionaires and all but one of those appears capable of winning. But the end, I simply had a difficult time making a strong case for any in the 1 1/8-mile race.

It will no shock to see any of the following win, but here are my concerns:

Gun Runner can dominate when spotted properly (Louisiana Derby, Risen Star & Matt Winn victories) but has lacked the will to win against better competition, recording five stakes placings. In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the 3-year-old appeared locked-and-loaded when advancing to challenge at the completion of the far turn and surged to a clear lead after entering the stretch. But Gun Runner gave way readily when Tamakruz appeared on the scene inside the final sixteenth of a mile, seizing the opportunity to settle for a minor award.

Effinex will make a title defense but tough to get excited about his chances after a Breeders’ Cup Classic drubbing in which he was beaten 24 lengths in seventh. He also turned in a dull sixth as the 3-5 favorite in the Stephen Foster at Churchill this summer.

Shaman Ghost finished third versus allowance rivals this summer off a freshening and fitness is a concern today given he hasn’t raced since upsetting the Woodward in early September, shipping to California for the Breeders’ Cup Classic but missing the race due to a fever. He could be a race short today.

Noble Bird was brilliant against third-tier opponents in the Fayette, Lukas Classic and Pimlico Special, but the front-runner morphs into an also-ran against deeper company, recording well-beaten unplaced efforts in the Alysheba, Met Mile and Whitney this year. His connections probably hated seeing no-hoper Mr. Z entered because the speedy rival could complicate things during the early stages.

Hoppertunity has placed in 6-of-8 starts at 1 1/8 miles and his best races this year have come at 10 furlongs. Churchill Downs didn’t appear to be playing favorably toward dead closers on Thursday and Hoppertunity is always a candidate to leave himself too much to do.

I will go a different direction with #3 Are You Kidding Me.

The 6-year-old returns to Churchill Downs in peak condition for trainer Roger Attfield, recording convincing wins in the Durham Cup and Autumn in his last two outings over Woodbine’s Tapeta, and Are You Kidding Me was beaten less than three lengths when trying Churchill Downs’ main track in the Stephen Foster, checking in fifth after a wide trip. That experience figures to benefit him and I like the draw in post 3.

Are You Kidding Me possesses good tactical speed and at 15-1 morning line, the price will be right for the seven-time stakes winner.

The Mrs. Revere (G2) will take place one race before the Clark and features a couple of short-priced horses in Harmonize (2-1) and Hawksmoor (5-2), who just missed in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup when finishing second and third, respectively.

However, neither brings overwhelming form into the 1 1/16-mile turf affair and both must overcome outside posts.

One of my favorite betting angles is horses stepping up in good form because they tend to be dismissed due to false class concerns. And that appears to be case today with #6 Linda, who is 12-1 on the morning line following a highly-encouraging second in her stakes bow, the October 21 Valley View (G3) at Keeneland. The improving Scat Daddy filly still has plenty of upside, breaking her maiden three starts back, and she can handle ground with give to it.

And Linda hails from the white-hot barn of Ian Wilkes, who won three races on Thursday.