11/27/2015 6:48PM

Effinex scores hard-fought victory in Clark Handicap


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With no American Pharoah to oppose him, Effinex took the spotlight for himself Friday with a hard-fought victory over Hoppertunity in the Grade 1, $500,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Effinex, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, moved into contention on the far turn of the 1 1/8-mile race before outrunning a host of challengers down the stretch.

“I needed him to push me,” said Smith, who gave the 4-year-old colt more than a dozen left-handed whacks in a fierce drive. “We had to shake and bake.”

Effinex returned $7 after finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Hoppertunity, the 2014 Clark winner and the close 5-2 second choice. Looks to Spare, an 88-1 outsider, was just another neck back in third, while Keen Ice flew late to finish just another head back in fourth.

Effinex was coming off a runner-up finish behind American Pharoah in the final career start for the Triple Crown winner, the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. He was dismissed at 33-1 in the Breeders’ Cup but was the 5-2 favorite against seven others as the co-highweight carrying 122 pounds in the 141st Clark, which was run amid a light rain under the Churchill lights.

After breaking from post 7, Smith kept Effinex five or six paths off the rail and in midpack while Mr. Z and Shotgun Kowboy contested fractions of 23.43 seconds and 47.68. Leaving the backstretch, Race Day was first to challenge, but by the time the field hit the quarter pole, having gone six furlongs in 1:11.64, Effinex had pulled alongside him on the lead as Hoppertunity also launched his bid.

Down the stretch, it looked like anybody’s race. Race Day was hanging tough. Looks to Spare was making a big run up the rail. Hoppertunity was edging perilously close while racing farthest outside, and Keen Ice, last past the quarter pole, was starting to uncork his rally.

In the final 70 yards, however, Effinex dug down deepest for his seventh victory from 20 career starts, finishing in 1:48.92 over the fast track while earning $300,700 with his first Grade 1 triumph. The dark bay colt’s prior stakes wins in open company came earlier this year in the Grade 3 Excelsior and Grade 2 Suburban, both on his home New York circuit. His total earnings now stand at $2,112,950.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was here for several days prior to the Clark to oversee final preparations for Effinex, a New York-bred son of Mineshaft.

“This was the logical spot for us to try,” said Jerkens. “We’re going to take him back to New York and regroup. I’ll probably keep him there again like I did last winter, but I wouldn’t rule out us trying some of the bigger handicap races elsewhere.”

After the top four, the order was Race Day, Protonico, Shotgun Kowboy, and Mr. Z. The only mare in the lineup, Frivolous, was scratched the previous day when suffering a career-ending injury.

Looks to Spare, claimed for a mere $5,000 in April, ran a spectacular race in defeat, giving up a couple lengths at the break before gradually making his way into contention.

“He kind of sat down on me at the start,” said jockey Victor Lebron. “After that, he ran huge.”

As for Keen Ice, the only horse to defeat American Pharoah this year, his late rally frustrated and thrilled his connections all at once. Trainer Dale Romans said beforehand he feared the distance might be a tad too short, and he was right.

“We’ll take him to Florida before too long and make the Dubai World Cup our main goal,” said Romans.

Effinex was just the second New York-bred to win the Clark, following Anticlimax in 1943.

The win was the second in the Clark for Smith, who won the race 22 years beforehand with Mi Cielo in 1993 for trainer Pete Vestal.The $2 exacta (8-6) paid $29, the $1 trifecta (8-6-2) returned $481.30, and the 10-cent superfecta (8-6-2-1) was worth $161.41.