03/25/2014 12:09PM

Florida Derby: Clarke gets another shot at glory with Cairo Prince

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Tom Keyser
Harvey Clarke retains a minority interest in Florida Derby favorite Cairo Prince.

Harvey Clarke said he never lamented the Kentucky Derby winner he virtually gave away. He is simply glad to have another chance to make it back to America’s most famous horse race.

In 2010, Clarke sold a yearling son of Flower Alley for $11,000 at the Keeneland September sale. That colt, out of the dam Arch’s Gal Edith, turned out to be I’ll Have Another, who in 2012 won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but was scratched from the Belmont Stakes due to an injury, thus ending his bid to become Thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Clarke, 72, said he never looked back after selling I’ll Have Another and was rooting for him to succeed.

“It’s like seeing one of your kids do well,” Clarke said. “It was wonderful to see, a great thing.”

A year earlier, Clarke had experienced the Kentucky Derby as part of a group that owned Soldat, who finished 11th at odds of 11-1.

This year, Clarke could be headed back to the Kentucky Derby as part-owner of Cairo Prince, who is at or near the top of most handicappers’ Kentucky Derby contender lists. Cairo Prince, dominant winner of the Grade 2 Holy Bull on Jan. 25, will attempt to cement his status as a top-flight contender when he runs in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Clarke is only a minority owner of Cairo Prince after he and his original partners – Paul Braverman, Terrence Murray, and Craig Robertson III – sold a majority interest in the colt to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing. Cairo Prince, trained all along by Kiaran McLaughlin, will race in Godolphin’s blue silks in the Florida Derby and subsequent races.

“It wasn’t easy,” Clarke said about selling. “They offered us an awful lot of money. That made it easier. There were four of us. The consensus was to take that offer. Even though it wasn’t easy we’re still in it for a fair percentage. If we win, it’ll be my horse that wins. That’s the way I’ll look at it.”

Clarke, the president of AJ Clarke, a real estate firm in Manhattan, said he has owned horses since 1979. He didn’t get his first stakes winner until 2009. In 2010, Soldat, Krypton, Eye of Taurus, and Yankee Fourtune all won graded events for Clarke. Soldat won the Fountain of Youth in 2011, a race that put him on the Derby trail even though he was probably a better turf horse.

“It takes a long time to become an overnight sensation,” Clarke said.

Clarke said he sells virtually everything he breeds. Among horses he bred that have gone on to do well are Havana, last year’s Grade 1 Champagne winner, and Stopchargingmaria, last year’s Grade 2 Demoiselle winner.

Speaking of his decision to put I’ll Have Another through the auction ring, Clarke said: “He was just a horse. Next time if I had to do it again I wouldn’t do anything much different. There was nothing not to like about him but there was nothing to particularly like about him, either.”

Clarke noted that he was not the only person to miss out on I’ll Have Another.

“Nobody raised their hand when they said $12,000,” Clarke said.

Clarke and his partners purchased Cairo Prince, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, for $250,000 out of the 2012 Keeneland yearling auction.

Last Oct. 6, the day after Havana and Honor Code ran one-two in the Grade 1 Champagne, Cairo Prince made his debut at Belmont Park. Before the race, in the Belmont paddock, Braverman asked McLaughlin if he felt like he had any horses that he thought were Derby prospects. McLaughlin mentioned Cairo Prince.

“I wear my feelings on my sleeve,” McLaughlin said Tuesday at Palm Meadows. “He just was that type of horse. He’s always been kind of a special horse to all of us.”

After winning that debut by 2 3/4 lengths, Cairo Prince won the Grade 2 Nashua at Aqueduct in his second start. He ended his 3-year-old season with a nose loss to Honor Code in the Grade 2 Remsen. Cairo Prince was visually impressive winning the Holy Bull by nearly six lengths.

Back in 2011, Soldat won an allowance race by more than 10 lengths and the Fountain of Youth by two lengths before finishing fifth in the Florida Derby and disappointing in the Kentucky Derby. His only win thereafter came in a turf allowance race.

“I think he’s a nicer horse than Soldat was,” Clarke says of Cairo Prince. “Maybe I’m jinxing him, but we think he’s really a special horse. I’ll guess we’ll find out Saturday.”