LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With such stars as Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Lawyer Ron already having been retired, there is more to come following the $500,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, as at least three horses in the field will be making their final starts Friday: Istan, Magna Graduate, and Purim. Nevertheless, the show goes on with a highly competitive field of nine entered Tuesday for the Grade 2 Clark, a 1 1/8-mile race with no clear-cut favorite.
Magna Graduate, the 2005 Clark winner, has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds, but it might be Istan (118) who will wind up as a slight wagering choice. It may be difficult for fans to ignore the last race for Istan - an 8 3/4-length romp in the Nov. 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill, resulting in a sizzling mile in 1:34.08 and a 111 Beyer Speed Figure.
"The time and figures from the Ack Ack are very, very good," trainer Bill Mott said. "He's already proven as an extremely good miler, and hopefully he'll get the extra eighth of a mile in an important race and enhance his popularity at stud."
Istan will stand next year at Airdrie Stud.
Magna Graduate is one of three starters for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Clark, with the others being A.P. Arrow and Fairbanks.
From the rail, this is the entire field: Diamond Stripes, Magna Graduate, Purim, A.P. Arrow, Brass Hat, Plug Me In, Fairbanks, Istan, and Going Ballistic.
The Friday-after-Thanksgiving card always draws the biggest crowd of the Churchill fall meet in non-Breeders' Cup years, and more than 20,000 are expected again this year. The Clark is carded as the 11th of 12 races. First post for the last three days of the meet is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.
Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes defections
The $250,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a co-highlight of the "Stars of Tomorrow II" card here Saturday, closing day, lost two major contenders early this week in Court Vision and Slew's Tiznow.
WinStar Farm officials and trainer Bill Mott have opted instead for the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct the same day for Court Vision, winner of the Oct. 28 Iroquois Stakes under Julien Leparoux.
The decision would have freed Leparoux to ride Slew's Tiznow, runner-up in the Breeders' Futurity last month at Keeneland, but the colt's new trainer, Dr. Greg Fox, said Tuesday that he will bypass the race in favor of the Hollywood Futurity next month.
"His red-cell blood count is a little lower than when I first got him," said Fox, who assumed the colt's training from the suspended Patrick Biancone and is based at a private farm adjacent to the Thoroughbred Training Center in Lexington, Ky. "I'm just taking the conservative route. He's fine, and I should have no problem getting him ready to run in California."
Entries for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club were to be drawn Wednesday, and only six remained in the prospective field, although the notable late defections figured to lure some others. Those still in: Blackberry Road, Cool Coal Man, Eaton's Gift, Halo Najib, Mythical Pegasus, and Racecar Rhapsody.
Numbers for the Kentucky Jockey Club counterpart and the other Saturday co-feature, the Grade 2, $250,000 Golden Rod, also looked a little light as of Tuesday, with the known prospects being Carnival City, French Kiss, Lady on Holiday, Morakami, Pure Clan, and Turn Away.
All 12 Saturday races will be restricted to 2-year-olds under the same "Stars of Tomorrow" banner that opened the meet on Oct. 28.
Hartlage seeks upset with High Heels
Thanksgiving at the track has been a tradition for Gary Hartlage for as long as he can remember. His most memorable Thanksgiving weekend came at Churchill in 1995, when he sent out Judge TC, ridden by Joe Johnson, to win the Clark on the day after Thanksgiving.
Hartlage, who grew up and still lives near Churchill, is hoping to add another Thanksgiving memory to his training career. He will saddle High Heels as one of the main threats to the obvious favorite, Panty Raid, in the 92nd Falls City Handicap.
"Winning this race wouldn't just make my Thanksgiving," Hartlage said. "It'd be my Christmas, too."
Cosmonaut tops River City Handicap
Besides the Clark, an excellent Friday card also includes the $200,000 River City Handicap (race 10), the $65,000 Dream Supreme Handicap (race 8), and three allowances (races 4, 9, 11).
From the hedge, this is the field for the Grade 3 River City: Cosmonaut, Thorn Song, Ascertain, Big Prairie, Yate's Black Cat, Brego, Ra Der Dean, Gun Salute, Skipped Bail, and Barastraight.
Cosmonaut, with Edgar Prado in from New York to ride, is the 122-pound highweight and likely favorite in the 1 1/8-mile turf race. The 5-year-old horse most recently was third in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Turfway opening with optimism on slots
Four-plus months of winter racing starts Sunday at Turfway Park, and officials at the Florence, Ky., track are buoyed by the result of the recent governor's election in Kentucky.
Surely to a greater degree than any other track in the state, Turfway has been wounded for years by competition from riverboat casinos in neighboring Indiana - but now, with Democrat Steve Beshear having been elected, Turfway stands a far better chance than ever to eventually offer alternative gaming. One of Beshear's main campaign platforms was to seek a statewide referendum on the alternative-gaming issue.