G M B Racing’s Tom’s d’Etat not only accomplished his mission to win a Grade 1, but dominated Friday’s $600,000 Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs as the 4-5 favorite. The long highly regarded, and lightly raced, six-year-old witnessed to the horsemanship of trainer Al Stall Jr. and his team, as well as the judgment of jockey Joel Rosario.
Coming off his first graded victory in the Fayette (G2) at a sloppy Keeneland, where he used his tactical speed, Tom’s d’Etat could have become embroiled in a contentious pace here. Such an early scrimmage probably contributed to his third in the June 15 Stephen Foster (G2) at this track and nine-furlong trip.
But Rosario was well aware of the playing field in the Clark. Unbeaten aboard Tom’s d’Etat, including the Fayette and the Alydar at Saratoga this summer, Rosario eased him back from post 2 and let the other forward types battle it out.
Mr. Buff came out on top of the pace scrum through an opening quarter in :23.02 on the fast track. The New York-bred got no peace, however, as Mr Freeze pressed through fractions of :47.43 and 1:11.82. Although Mr Freeze made his move turning for home, his time in front was short-lived.
Tom’s d’Etat was already circling ominously, and the odds-on favorite overwhelmed him down the stretch. Opening up by 3 1/4 lengths, the Smart Strike blueblood won for fun in 1:48.85.
“He ran unbelievable,” Rosario said. “It was such a good effort from him tonight to be able to sit behind the speed like that. He had such a strong kick in the stretch and won easily.”
Three-year-old Owendale rallied from last to snatch second by a head from Mr Freeze, who fared best of the pace factors in third. Draft Pick closed for fourth, followed by Major Cabbie; 2017 Clark winner Seeking the Soul, a non-threatening sixth; Mocito Rojo; Bravazo, who tired to eighth in his comeback; Snapper Sinclair; Mr. Buff; and Fact Finding. Pioneer Spirit was scratched.
Tom’s d’Etat was crowning a memorable Thanksgiving holiday for owner Gayle Benson, whose New Orleans Saints clinched the NFC South title by beating their ancient foe, the Atlanta Falcons, Thursday night. He was named in honor of her late husband, Tom.
Stall mentioned “Mr. B” in his postrace interview, recalling he’d told Benson that Tom’s d’Etat was better than the G M B horses who’d competed in the Kentucky Derby (G1) – just more often on the sidelines.
“There are a lot of Grade 1 horses in this game that don’t make Grade 1 races,” Stall said. “To have a horse like this is extremely special for our entire barn.”
Tom’s d’Etat didn’t make it to a Grade 1 until the Pegasus World Cup (G1) last January. He had won his first two starts back from a 15-month layoff, notably the Tenacious at Fair Grounds in his stakes debut. Unfortunately, he couldn’t perform up to his ability in the sea of slop at Gulfstream Park, wound up ninth, and came out of the race with another setback.
“(The Pegasus World Cup) was on a funky racetrack in January,” Stall said. “He ended up getting a pretty bad abscess in his hind and he just wasn’t right after the race. We saw some footage of him training and knew he wasn’t right. He was able to take care of himself in that race and we were able to give him the time off he needed to heal from the injury and doing right by him shows us how important that can be – look where we are now.”
Second to McKinzie when ready to resume in the Alysheba (G2) on Kentucky Oaks Day, Tom’s d’Etat was third in the aforementioned Foster en route to the Spa. His resounding Alydar set him up for a tilt at the Woodward (G1), where he finished fourth to Preservationist. Tom’s d’Etat rebounded in the Fayette, and his Clark heroics made him a millionaire with earnings of $1,236,572 from his 16-9-2-1 line.
While another crack at the Pegasus is one option, Stall indicated that a range of possibilities is on the table. The $20 million Saudi Cup on February 29 and $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) March 28 could lure him to the Mideast, or he could stick to the top prizes in the division domestically, or he could retire to stud.
Tom’s d’Etat has stallion appeal. Aside from being by Smart Strike (whose sons include Curlin, Lookin at Lucky, and English Channel), the bay is out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Julia Tuttle. That Giant’s Causeway mare was produced by a full sister to unbeaten champion and outstanding sire Candy Ride. Hence the catalog page looked pretty smart when Tom’s d’Etat fetched $330,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.
Stall came close to a graded double on Friday, but his Dalika was outpointed in the $300,000 Mrs. Revere (G2) by First Row Partners and Hidden Brook Farm’s Nay Lady Nay. A 7-1 overlay in her graded debut for Chad Brown, the full sister to reigning Coventry (G2) hero Arizona was following up on her good-looking score in the Parx Fall Oaks. Nay Lady Nay might have garnered a bit more attention but for the presence of stablemate New and Improved, the 2-1 favorite. As it turned out, the yielding turf became a factor, and Nay Lady Nay coped much better with conditions.
Settled in midpack early by Junior Alvarado, Nay Lady Nay bided her time as Hard Legacy carved out splits of :24.54, :50.25, and 1:16.42. Hard Legacy put away her pace companion Amandrea turning for home, but couldn’t fend off the challenge from The Mackem Bullet. Wider out, Dalika rallied to take over as The Mackem Bullet’s stamina ebbed away late.
Then Nay Lady Nay determinedly split them to beat Dalika by a half-length. By clocking 1 1/16 miles in 1:48.52 – a function of the going and the slow early pace – the Scat Daddy filly advanced her scorecard to 5-3-1-0, $265,180.
“Anytime you ride a horse for Chad Brown,” Alvarado said, “you know it’ll be ready to roll. She broke very good and had a nice kick at the end. She got over the going very well and had a nice kick at the end to get us home.”
The Mackem Bullet checked in another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Hard Legacy tired to fourth, while Winning Envelope kept on in fifth. New and Improved, well back early, worked her way into seventh.
“I don’t think she really got over the surface well,” Rosario said of the favorite. “She never was able to pick up her stride.”
Amandrea faded to last of 12. Winter Sunset and Passionof the Nile were scratched.
Bred by Stephen Sullivan in Ireland, Nay Lady Nay twice sold at Goffs – for €44,000 as a November weanling and €50,000 as an Orby yearling – before commanding $210,000 at OBS March. Her dam, the English Channel mare Lady Ederle, is herself out of 1993 Oaks d’Italia (G1) winner Bright Generation. This is the further family of French champion Dabirsim and ill-fated star Sea of Class who ran Enable so close in last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
Nay Lady Nay’s brother Arizona is knocking on the Group 1 door after placings in the Dewhurst (G1) and Vincent O’Brien National (G1), and a flying fifth as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) favorite. The Aidan O’Brien trainee is eyeing the 2000 Guineas (G1) next spring. By that point, Nay Lady Nay might have a Grade 1 credit on her own resume.