11/21/2012 2:36PM

Churchill Downs: Pool Play, Mission Impazible among Clark sleepers

Barbara D. Livingston
Pool Play may rebound from from an off-the-board Breeders' Cup performance in the Clark Handicap. Pool Play won the Grade 1 Foster over the Churchill track in 2011.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If there are no cinches in horse racing, that might be doubly true for the Clark Handicap. The Churchill Downs fall showcase has made a tradition of large and wide-open fields in recent years, and the 138th running Friday is no exception.

Shackleford is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Clark, and perhaps deservedly so, but there is no shortage of talent in against him. Most of the opposing nine have recorded Beyer Speed Figures in the 100 range while competing at lofty levels, and fans should not be surprised with any number of end-game scenarios after the sun goes down Friday.

A victory by Pool Play, exiting the Breeders’ Cup Classic, would be a prime example. Mark Casse said he believes the 7-year-old gelding should be forgiven a 17-length drubbing in that Santa Anita race and granted a big chance when wheeling back in 20 days.

“Pool Play loves Churchill,” said Casse. “He’s coming back a little quick, but I think he just kind of went around the track in California. This race is hard to pass up when we know he likes it here.”

Another viable play is Mission Impazible, a gray 5-year-old who has tantalized his connections by finishing a close second in three Grade 1 races without winning any of them. New York standout Javier Castellano sees fit to travel here to keep the mount on Mission Impazible, a horse he has ridden in 9 of his last 10 races.

“He’s been a great, consistent, durable horse for us,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, the future Hall of Famer who won the Clark in 2005 with Magna Graduate and 2007 with A.P. Arrow. “We’re hoping he can get the Grade 1 he deserves.”

Yet one more fringe threat is Lunar Victory, a New York-bred by way of Great Britain. Since Juddmonte Farms turned over the 5-year-old to Bill Mott, he has won 6 of 8 starts in the United States, with his latest a convincing run in the Empire Classic against fellow statebreds. Mott, of course, knows how to win at Churchill, having swept the BC Classic and Ladies’ Classic here in 2011 while becoming the all-time leading stakes-winning trainer in track history.