11/24/2006 12:00AM

Premium Tap cruises in Clark

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After a horrible trip and questionable ride cost Premium Tap all chance in the Kentucky Cup Classic, trainer John Kimmel and jockey Kent Desormeaux were the epitome of dejection and frustration.

But after Premium Tap got a perfect trip and textbook ride Friday in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, the colt responded with a breathtaking triumph, leading to elation and jubilation, with Kimmel and Desormeaux exchanging hugs and high-fives in the Churchill Downs winner's circle.

"That's the horse I was looking for today," said Kimmel. "There's no question Kent can horseback. Everybody makes mistakes. I'm just glad we had this opportunity to redeem ourselves."

Sent away the 9-5 favorite in a field of 12 3-year-olds and upward, Premium Tap broke sharply after being reluctant to load, then raced in third position behind a furious early pace set by Bright One and Wanderin Boy. With a half-mile to go in the 1 1/8-mile Clark, Desormeaux had a ton of horse beneath him, and after Premium Tap easily took command at the quarter pole, the race was for second. Premium Tap won by 7 1/4 lengths, while Wild Desert was up in a three-way photo to get second by a nose over A.P. Arrow, who was just another nose ahead of Master Command, his Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate.

Premium Tap, owned by the Florida-based partnership of George Kline, Peter Alevizos, and David Whelihan, returned $5.60 after finishing in 1:47.39 over a fast track. The winner's share of the $572,000 purse was $329,816, giving Premium Tap, a 4-year-old Pleasant Tap colt, a career bankroll of $1,307,096.

The Grade 1 victory was the second for Premium Tap, who captured the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 2. The colt then finished fifth as the favorite in the Sept. 30 Kentucky Cup, then third behind Invasor and Bernardini in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill.

"I even said he didn't run his 'A' race in the Breeders' Cup," said Kimmel. "He brought it today."

Kimmel said Premium Tap would soon ship to Florida and point to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 3, "then maybe Dubai," a reference to the $6 million Dubai World Cup in late March.

This was the first time in 132 runnings that the Clark carried a Grade 1 ranking, having been upgraded since last year.

Jockey Mark Guidry rode five winners on the 12-race Friday card.

Ontrack attendance amid perfect fall weather was 15,524.