By Gene Kershner
Holiday racing has big races today (Clark Handicap) and tomorrow (Cigar) at Churchill Downs and Aqueduct, respectively.
Game On Dude (8-5) was assigned high weight in the Grade 1 Clark (126 lbs) where he will take on 3-year-old contender Will Take Charge (9-5, 123 lbs) in an attempt to save face after a dismal ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The 9-furlong race is at the Dude's favored distance where he's won seven of nine starts and finished second in another at the distance. Mike Smith will be in the irons for trainer Bob Baffert on the Dude.
It will be Will Take Charge's 11th race of a long year that has seen him win four times including a Grade 1 (Travers), two Grade 2 victories (Rebel, Penn Derby), as well as his nose loss to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic. A win here could propel him to the 3-year-old male championship with a second consecutive good showing against older horses. Luis Saez gets the mount for the fifth straight time on the son of Unbridled's Song.
Other contenders include last year's Travers dead-heater Golden Ticket (9-2, 120 lbs.) and Bourbon Courage (8-1, 117 lbs). There is some pace to the race with the Dude, Prayer for Relief (20-1) and Jaguar Paw (20-1), but it looks like it will come down to the main two challengers. I like Bourbon Courage's chances to hit the board and pick up the pieces should the race fall apart.
The Grade 1 Cigar Mile at the Big A on Saturday will feature Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll, both of whom will try to place an exclamation point on their respective seasons. Talk of a 3-year-old championship with a Cigar Mile for Goldencents isn't out of the question, who is partially owned by Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Groupie Doll, running for new owner Mandy Pope, had her final workout on Monday, going four furlongs in 48.55 for trainer "Buff" Bradley. Pope purchased the daughter of Bowman's Band during the recent Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $3.1 million. Stay Thirsty nipped the champion female sprinter by a nose in last year's edition of the Cigar Mile, so she's taken on the boys before in this very race.
Todd Pletcher will send out of trio of challengers including Haskell winner Verrazano, King's Bishop winner Capo Bastone and Forty Tales to the gate to challenge the Breeders' Cup winners.
Fort Erie Festival Racing Proposal
On Wednesday the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium unveiled their proposal to the Ontario government for a festival racing concept. The proposal detailed a three-weekend meet to be conducted in August 2014 with an emphasis on "The Year of the Horse," representing this year's Chinese New Year. The Year of the Horse celebration would feature a regal horse as its centerpiece, a man-made horse built via a traditional bamboo scaffolding technique, used primarily in Hong Kong.
The festival strategy combines marketing efforts to ethnic groups, an interactive gaming site called Horses 101, concerts and special tour packages to draw interest from outside of the area. A link to the proposal can be found here.