Updated on 09/17/2011 6:02PM

Saint Liam lives up to billing in Clark

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Saint Liam ($4.40) wins the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Saint Liam won the Grade 2 at Churchill Downs on Friday in the unlikely role of a 6-5 favorite still seeking his first stakes win. Granted, he had been terrific in a neck defeat to Ghostzapper in his previous start, but given the 130-year history of the Clark, a venerable race for 3-year-olds and upward, it seemed highly improbable that a non-stakes winner would be so fancied.

None of that mattered when the gates opened for the $558,000 Clark. Saint Liam, breaking from post 2 under Edgar Prado, was nearly sawed off when Seek Gold came over on him at the start. "There was a good chance he was going to be eliminated," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains Saint Liam.

But Prado eased Saint Liam out of trouble, and from there, everything went perfectly. After putting away Lundy's Liability, the front-runner and 120-pound highweight in a field of nine, Saint Liam edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths over late-running Seek Gold, a 42-1 shot who nipped Perfect Drift, the 3-1 second choice, by a nose for second. The nose kept Perfect Drift from going over the $1 million mark this year.

Saint Liam, said Prado, "relaxed beautifully for me. He still had something left in the tank. He was looking for competition. Nice horse. I don't think he was all the way out."

Saint Liam returned $4.40 after finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.81 over a fast track. The Clark was his fifth win in 14 career starts and followed narrow defeats in several major races, the most notable being his gutsy race behind Ghostzapper in the Sept. 11 Woodward. He was wearing blinkers for the first time in the Clark.

"I don't know if the blinkers did all that much, because he still seemed to be weaving a little down the lane," said Dutrow. "He didn't take my breath away today, but he got it done. He'll fly down to Florida this week and we'll make the Donn Handicap our next big goal."

After Perfect Drift, the order of finish was Suave, Eurosilver, Lundy's Liability, Pies Prospect, Colonial Colony, and Sir Cherokee. Fantasticat was an early scratch.

Ontrack attendance was a meet-high 15,536. The $2 exacta paid $100.60 and the $2 trifecta paid $365.80.