11/26/2003 12:00AM

Clark packed with possibilities

Tenpins, here winning the Iselin, will have Pat Day riding him for the first time in the Clark. The race drew a full field of 14.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The record books don't say a thing about Col. M. Lewis Clark's opinion on big fields, but it is probably safe to assume he was all for them.

It could be further assumed, then, that Col. Clark would be happy about what Churchill Downs has assembled in his honor. The $500,000 Clark Handicap, the traditional fall-meet showcase run at 1 1/8 miles, has drawn the maximum of 14 starters for its 129th running here Friday, and if a horseplayer doesn't get a little excited about betting into this one, well, he probably just doesn't get it.

Tenpins is the 119-pound highweight and lukewarm favorite in the Grade 2 Clark, a role he inherited when trainer Bobby Frankel, who won the race last year with Lido Palace, decided not to ship $4.2 million earner Medaglia d'Oro to Churchill from Hollywood Park. But what the race lacks in top-end star power, it clearly makes up for in depth and competitiveness.

If Tenpins does not run any better than he did in his last race, when he was beaten in the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, the race could be won by almost any of the rest. The capable challengers include Evening Attire, During, Crafty Shaw, and M B Sea, but that is just the beginning of a lengthy list.

Tenpins, trained by Don Winfree, finished second as the even-money favorite in the Oct. 25 Fayette, which was won by 34-1 shot M B Sea.

"I sure hope we run better than last time," said Winfree. "I don't see any reason why he won't. He's been training just fine. We're going into the race with no excuses."

Tenpins, a winner of 9 of 15 races and over $1.1 million, has excellent tactical speed and figures on or near the early pace. He will be ridden for the first time by Pat Day, who has won four runnings of the Clark, the latest in 2000 on the filly Surfside.

Evening Attire, a hard-charging gray gelding, is the lone holdover from the Breeders' Cup Classic, in which he finished a nonthreatening seventh. An earner of over $1.8 million, Evening Attire is based in New York with Pat Kelly, who was at Churchill six days ago to win the Cardinal Handicap with Riskaverse.

During, the lone 3-year-old in the field, has been somewhat inconsistent for trainer Bob Baffert. He has won 5 of 12 starts this year, and his three graded stakes wins include victories in the Swaps and Jerome, so he could pose a serious challenge with a top effort.

Crafty Shaw, a winner in three of his last four starts, nearly won the 2002 Clark at 42-1 but was overtaken in the final yards by heavily favored Lido Palace. Trainer Pete Vestal insists that Crafty Shaw thrives in late autumn, and given his sharp recent form, the 5-year-old horse is another logical threat.

M B Sea, trained by Dale Romans, notched the first stakes win of his 28-race career in the Fayette. "It wasn't a fluke," said Romans. "He's a real nice horse just now coming into his own. It's a tough race Friday, but I really think he'll be a force to be reckoned with."

Fringe contenders include Cappuchino, winner of the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap earlier at this meet; Quest, runner-up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup two starts back before disappointing in the Fayette; Quest Star, a classy colt who makes an intriguing transition to dirt after spending most of his career on grass; and Devil Time, a star Ohio-bred stepping back into open company off four straight wins.

The rest of the field is Aeneas, Private Lap, Request for Parole, Seattle Fitz, and Sonic West.

The Clark dates to 1875, when Col. Clark founded Churchill. The race is the 11th of 12 on a sensational card that also includes six allowances.

As usual, the largest crowd of the fall meet is expected Friday, when the high temperature has been forecast for 36. First post is 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

* Churchill's 27-day meet ends Saturday with twin $200,000 stakes for 2-year-olds: the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod. Action on the Kentucky circuit shifts Sunday to Turfway Park in Florence.