11/23/2005 12:00AM

Race that launched a career

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Private Vow likely will be favored in Saturday's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When a race carries a $500,000 purse - as Friday's Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs does - it is a race that every horseman wants to win. It just happens that trainer Paul McGee, a 43-year-old Louisville native, would like to win it a bit more than the next guy.

Back in 1988, when McGee was 26 and running a two-horse stable, he scored his first major stakes victory in the race with Balthazar B., a horse he had claimed for $18,000 for owners Frank Fletcher and Jim Shields. The victory helped establish McGee's training career.

Of course, wanting to win the Clark is not merely enough. "I've been trying since 1988 and it hasn't happened," he said.

This year McGee has a legitimate chance. His representative, Suave, is likely to vie for favoritism with Perfect Drift in the Grade 2 race.

In contrast to Balthazar B., who came from humble beginnings, Suave is a blueblood. A 4-year-old son of A. P. Indy bred and owned by Jan, Mace and Samantha Siegel, Suave started his career with high expectations. His dam, Urbane, won two Grade 1 stakes and amassed over $1 million in earnings when racing in the mid-1990's.

Although Suave was accomplished at age 3, winning the Grade 3 Northern Dancer and placing second in the Indiana Derby, he has fully developed this year at 4. After winning an allowance at Arlington over the summer, he took the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup before running second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park.

He turned in what may have been the best race of his career in the BC Classic, pressuring a contested pace and holding on well until the closing yards to lose by three lengths. "I was real happy with his effort, though it was a shame to run so good and not get a bigger check," McGee said.

Finishing narrowly in front of him that day was Perfect Drift, who rallied to grab third in the Classic, a half-length in front of Suave. It marked the second time Perfect Drift had edged him in a race. They were 1 1/4 lengths apart in last year's Clark, with Perfect Drift third and Suave fourth.

After the Clark, plans are for Suave to race through his 5-year-old year in 2006 with the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream on Feb. 4 being a winter goal, McGee said.

Private Vow heads closing-day KJC Stakes

Trainer Steve Asmussen will be looking for something a whole lot different from Private Vow when the colt goes off as the likely favorite Saturday in the closing-day feature, the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes for 2-year-olds.

In his last start, the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Private Vow didn't have much chance to run when the rein broke during the backstretch run, and jockey John Velazquez had no choice but to ease the colt. Before the Juvenile, Private Vow won the Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont by nine lengths.

"He's an awesome horse," said Asmussen. "He's still the horse that won the Belmont Futurity, which, last time I checked, was a pretty good race."

Private Vow, who drilled a half-mile here Monday in 46.60 seconds, will be part of a large field in the KJC Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race that usually produces a legitimate hopeful or two for the next year's Kentucky Derby. Other top contenders include Catcominatcha and High Cotton, the respective one-two finishers in the recent Iroquois Stakes, and Liquoreux, unbeaten and untested in two starts and trained by Richard Dutrow Jr.

She Says It Best attempts turnaround

Trainer Vickie Foley also is hoping to reverse a Breeders' Cup disappointment on Saturday when She Says It Best, who finished ahead of just one rival in the BC Juvenile Fillies, runs back in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes, the filly counterpart to the KJC Stakes.

"The filly's done everything right since we brought her back from New York," said Foley.

The 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod is expected to get maybe eight or nine fillies, including French Park, the unbeaten winner of the Pocahontas, and Tiztimetokinect, a 19-length maiden winner at Keeneland.

First post for a 12-race Saturday card will be 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Live racing on the Kentucky circuit moves Sunday to Turfway Park in Florence.

Friday's card a dandy

With full and classy fields, the Friday card is representative of what Churchill has offered its fans throughout an outstanding fall meet.

Besides the Clark, the 12-race card also includes the $70,800 Distorted Humor, five allowance races, and three maiden special weight races. The 6 1/2-furlong Distorted Humor, an overnight handicap carded as race 10, drew eight older horses and no standout favorite. With Distinction, a sharp recent allowance winner, might be a slight choice for D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Rafael Bejarano.

One of the more interesting allowances is the sixth race, in which a full field of 2-year-olds, including some who were under consideration for the KJC Stakes, were entered.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee