11/27/2009 12:00AM

Much to overcome for Einstein in Clark

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Barbara D. Livingston
Einstein, here with trainer Helen Pitts aboard, drew post 14 for Friday's Clark Handicap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - They call it a handicap, but not because of post positions, for crying out loud. And yet here's Einstein being asked not only to carry high weight of 123 pounds Friday in the 135th Clark Handicap, but to start from the outside in post 14 of the Churchill Downs starting gate.

"What can you do?" asked a nearly incredulous Helen Pitts, who trains Einstein for the Stronach Stable. "It just makes a tough race even tougher."

The depth of the field for the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark is illustrated by the fact that Einstein - the defending champion and a highly decorated winner of more than $2.9 million - has been listed about as high as a program favorite can go, at 7-2.

"With all he's got going against him, will he even be favored?" asked Pitts. "I mean, there are a lot of good horses in there, and we've got a lot to overcome."

Einstein enters the 1 1/8-mile Clark off an uncharacteristically poor effort in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Classic. He was never a factor when 11th, and Pitts said she still has no idea why he ran so poorly.

Einstein's weight package, post, and puzzling last race only further muddle an already difficult task for horseplayers. As for strategy in the two-turn race, Pitts said Rajiv Maragh, the New York-based jockey who takes over the reins aboard Einstein for Julien Leparoux, "will just have to take it as it comes." Leparoux, who rode the 7-year-old Brazilian-bred in each of his last eight races, had a prior commitment to ride in Japan, "but the horse is easy to ride," Pitts said.

Foremost among the array of capable opponents for Einstein is Macho Again, the stretch-running gray assigned post 2 under Robby Albarado. Macho Again has earned more than $1.8 million and won three graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap here in June, but his proudest moment may have come in September, when the 4-year-old colt was beaten just a head by Rachel Alexandra in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

"That was a great day, but it could have been the greatest," said Dallas Stewart, trainer of Macho Again.

Another top threat is Bullsbay, winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap in August and a three-time winner in four starts at Churchill. Bullsbay won the Alysheba Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard in May and could improve substantially over a ninth-place finish last out in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, trainer Graham Motion said.

"He had a little foot problem leading up to the Breeders' Cup, but now that I've got him doing good again, I thought this would be worth trying," Motion said.

Other notable older runners in the Clark field include Etched, a five-time winner from just six career starts, including a score in the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup in his latest, and the uncoupled Paul McGee duo of Demarcation and Dubious Miss. Demarcation won the Grade 3 Ack Ack on the opening-day Nov. 1 card. Dubious Miss is being ridden by Calvin Borel, and his seven races with Borel aboard have resulted in six victories and a narrow defeat in the Kentucky Cup Classic to Furthest Land, eventual winner of the BC Dirt Mile.

And then there is a pair of dangerous-looking 3-year-olds, Misremembered and Blame.

Misremembered, bred and trained by Bob Baffert, failed badly in his only test against older horses when finishing 10th in the Pacific Classic two starts back, but the ridgling has been highly competitive otherwise, sandwiching Grade 2 wins in the Swaps Stakes and Indiana Derby around the Pacific Classic.

Blame, trained by Al Stall Jr. for the partnership of Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, has been pointing to the Clark since finishing a sharp second in the Sept. 19 Super Derby.

"This has been on our radar for quite a while," Stall said. "We'd love to think we'll have a real nice 4-year-old for next year, but let's see how he does here first."

The balance of the Clark lineup is You and I Forever, Giant Oak, Anarko, Anak Nakal, Kiss the Kid, and Timber Reserve.

The Clark anchors a program that traditionally draws the largest ontrack crowd of the fall meet, usually 20,000 or more. First post for the 12-race card is 11:30 a.m. Eastern, with the Clark, the 11th, going at 4:29 p.m. The undercard includes the Grade 3 River City Handicap (race 9). HRTV will have live coverage of all the action.

The weather forecast for Friday calls for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of just 48.