There is a natural pause in horse racing after the hectic 14-race Breeders’ Cup four weeks ago. Many Eclipse Awards were won and lost. Many horseplayer bankrolls ballooned or got deflated.
But the time to exhale has past. This weekend features three races with interesting Eclipse implications.
Churchill Downs runs the Clark Handicap today, which could provide redemption for Game On Dude and Will Take Charge.
Trainer Bob Baffert is hoping Game On Dude will rebound from a dismal race in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which he ran ninth as the heavy favorite.
A Clark win might be enough for Game On Dude to salvage the Eclipse for top handicap horse. Mucho Macho Man is the leader right now off a gutsy win in the Classic.
Will Take Charge lost that Classic by a paper-thin margin to Mucho Macho Man. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas thinks a Clark win will cement an Eclipse title for top 3-year-old.
While both favorites look tough to beat, I suggest using Easter Gift (12-1) from the Chad Brown barn. He has an improving pattern and gets Joel Rosario to ride.
At Aqueduct, the Cigar Mile and Remsen are key stakes on Saturday.
In the Cigar Mile, seven of 11 entrants last started in a Breeders’ Cup race. That is strong.
Groupie Doll (3-1), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, is favored over her male foes. In last year’s Cigar, she lost to Stay Thirsty by an inch.
Goldencents (7-2), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, is a 3-year-old colt facing his elders. His trainer, Doug O’Neill, thinks a win in the Cigar might do enough to get him an Eclipse as top 3-year-old.
The Cigar field is so deep that bettors can get high odds on such Grade 1 winners as Capo Bastone (20-1), Flat Out (6-1), Verrazano (8-1) and Private Zone (15-1).
The Remsen historically has showcased future Kentucky Derby hopefuls. It might carry even more weight this year, as Churchill Downs has scheduled an early Kentucky Derby Future Wager for this weekend.
Honor Code (9-5) bypassed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to point for the Remsen. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, won his first Derby last spring with Orb, so nobody will question his motive.
For Honor Code, this is an important step on the road to the Derby, and a win could boost his stock enough to win the Eclipse as top 2-year-old.
His main foe could be Cairo Prince (2-1), who won the Nashua last time out. He has won both his starts by daylight and has tactical speed that could provide a strategic edge over the late-closing Honor Code.
■ HORSEPLAYER WORLD SERIES QUALIFIER — A Horseplayer World Series qualifier will take place today at all Boyd Gaming race books — the Gold Coast, Orleans, Sam’s Town and Suncoast. The entry fee is $100, with a $300 live money bankroll.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.