04/06/2009 11:00PM

Papa Clem looking to complete Lewis trifecta


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - If Southern California-invader Papa Clem runs a big race Saturday in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita is going to look like the king of this year's Triple Crown prep races. Pioneerof the Nile won the Feb. 7 stakes at Santa Anita by a half-length over Papa Clem, while it was another length back in third to I Want Revenge.

Since then, Pioneerof the Nile has locked up the West Coast preps, taking the the Grade 2 San Felipe and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, while I Want Revenge headed East to sweep the Grade 3 Gotham and Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

That has left the Midwest open for Papa Clem, who after the Lewis traveled to Fair Grounds and finished second to Friesan Fire in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 14. The race was Papa Clem's first start on dirt following a Southern California synthetic campaign that culminated with his second-place finish in the Lewis.

"I thought he ran a huge race in the Lewis," said Gary Stute, who trains Papa Clem for owner-breeder Bo Hirsch. "He laid second, took the lead at he quarter pole, and then I Want Revenge came outside of him and hooked him and he went head-and-head with him. He started to put him away at the sixteenth pole, and for about four jumps I thought we were going to win, and then here comes Pioneerof the Nile flying on the outside."

Time would reveal the significance of the race, with Pioneerof the Nile and I Want Revenge now two of the top choices for the Kentucky Derby. Hirsch and Stute, the 52-year-old son of trainer Mel Stute, want to see the right kind of performance Saturday from Papa Clem before heading to Churchill, and all indications are the horse is poised for a big race. He breezed five furlongs in a bullet 58.80 seconds last Sunday at Oaklawn and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.60. The work was in stark contrast to Papa Clem's two other, more relaxed works at Oaklawn since the Louisiana Derby.

"Bob Baffert came up with a term a few years ago called Melvin-nizing for a fast work, because Stutes are notorious for liking their horses to work fast, so I wanted to Melvin-nize him," Stute said of the final work. "I just wanted to remind him what it's all about."

Papa Clem stayed in the Midwest for a second try over dirt after catching a wet track in the Louisiana Derby.

"This is his first opportunity, at least the way the weather looks at the moment, to run on a fast dirt course, and I'm really hoping he'll do well," Hirsch said.

Hirsch, 60, is the son of Clement Hirsch, the prominent breeder and owner who in the late 1960s founded the Oak Tree Racing Association. Clement Hirsch has major stakes named after him at Santa Anita and Del Mar, and now a 3-year-old Derby hopeful. Papa Clem was what his grandchildren called him, Bo Hirsch said.

"My father passed away in 2000," he said. "I bought five horses out of the estate. I wanted to keep the name going and keep the colors going."

One of Bo Hirsch's purchases was the yearling Miss Houdini, who would win the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante and later produce Papa Clem on a mating to Smart Strike.

"At the ranch, they were pretty high on Papa Clem," Hirsch said of the foal. "We had bred to Smart Strike when Smart Strike was not a household name. They said he could run. I decided if I was ever was going to name a horse after my father, this would be it. I took a chance. If it doesn't work out, I'm in big trouble."

Stute, the nephew of the late Warren Stute, who trained Miss Houdini, rates Papa Clem as the best horse he has trained, although he was closely associated with some of his father's top runners, including champions Snow Chief and Brave Raj as well as Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Very Subtle.

"Papa Clem is kind of a sentimental horse," Stute said. "I think his mother was the last Grade 1 winner my uncle trained, and my uncle, I hung out with him every day of my life. My first job was for him when I was 12. I went to work for him as a hotwalker."

Papa Clem has the same kind of meaning for Hirsch.

"I hope he's watching," he said of his father. "He would have had a ball. He never had a horse go to the Kentucky Derby. He had a horse named Magical Mile that he nicknamed Magical Mile and a Quarter after he won his first two races. But he never got there. I hope he gets there this time. I consider him a major part of this."