Kentucky Derby winner RICH STRIKE returns to the scene of his 80-1 spring stunner as closing weekend of the Churchiill Downs Fall Meet presents the Grade 1 Clark Handicap among several important stakes. Thanksgiving Weekend includes the Falls City in the Distaff division, as well as the Kentucky Jockey Club for the Juveniles and the Golden Rod for the Juvenile Fillies. It all comes to a halt with Sunday's closing-day card featuring mandatory payouts in all multi-race wagers.
RICH STRIKE is the lone Grade 1 winner in the field of 7, which includes Grade 2 winners LAST SAMURAI and WEST WILL POWER. Add in Grade 3 winner and Grade 2-placed FULSOME, as well as graded stakes-placed PROXY and INJUNCTION. Despite being a 3-year-old, RICH STRIKE has kept the strongest company lines and rates the class edge.
WEST WILL POWER took advantage of lone speed in the Fayette at Keeneland and likely controls the pace again unless INJUNCTION is pressed into the front-runner's perch. Those two should control a modest pace for 1-1/8 miles and have LAST SAMURAI and perhaps TRADEMARK in pressing positions. Deep closers like RICH STRIKE will not get the ideal set-up in all likelihood.
RICH STRIKE simply has been best at Churchill, going 3: 2-1-0 with a too-good-to-lose second to Hot Rod Charlie in the Lukas Classic his only defeat. Other locales? He's 9: 0-0-3. The 20-day turn-around from the Breeders' Cup Classic offers some concern even on the return to his favorite strip. You'll recall the connections lamenting how much time he needs between races during the Triple Crown when skipping the Preakness. Who knows what to believe? This will be the quickest turnaround of his career and a day shorter than a third-place allowance bid last October.
Beyond RICH STRIKE, the 1-2-3 finishers in the Fayette present threats. WEST WILL POWER dominated that race over this same trip at Keeneland, and prior to that was a sharp Churchill allowance winner at the same Clark distance. He ticks all the boxes and has improved mightily since coming to Brad Cox's barn. The rider change to Luis Saez should be an excellent style fit. LAST SAMURAI had to do the dirty work pressing unsuccessfully in the Fayette, and could benefit from newcomer INJUNCTION taking that role Friday. But Oaklawn clearly looks like the best locale for LAST SAMURAI. As for FULSOME, late-running runner-up in the Fayette behind his Cox stablemate, he'll be trying to turn it on from the back of the pack along with RICH STRIKE. If you're going to beat RICH STRIKE, the style to do so would seem to be to be in front of him throughout, not trying to match closing kicks.
PROXY is 0-8 in stakes races, but never worse than fourth. He has some pace versatility which plays well in this race and the rail draw helps save ground. Joel Rosario winds up here after riding WEST WILL POWER at Keeneland.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
WEST WILL POWER is in peak form and should be pace advantaged.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
TRADEMARK should be within striking distance down the backstretch and has a strong local record. This race sets up for him better than the Fayette.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$45 exacta part-wheel WEST WILL POWER with FULSOME, RICH STRIKE ($90). $10 exacta WEST WILL POWER with TRADEMARK ($10).