December 11, 2023

Clapton edges Trademark in Lukas Classic; Zozos stamps Dirt Mile ticket in Ack Ack

Clapton in The Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs
Clapton (outside) wins the Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs (Photo by Coady Photography)

Churchill Downs featured a trio of stakes on Saturday’s program, including a pair of graded events with Breeders’ Cup prospects.

Lukas Classic (G2)

In the $438,660 Lukas Classic (G2), Clapton got up late to notch his biggest career win, prevailing by a head on the wire. The pace was hot (:23.12, :46.66, and 1:10.83), and Clapton closed from more than 10 lengths back in the early stages, scoring as the 8.16-1 fourth choice among eight runners.

The winner denied Trademark, who stalked the pace in third before advancing to a clear lead with a furlong remaining. Clapton made up a lot of ground on the far turn and wore down Trademark in the final furlong, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.79.

A recent private purchase by Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid al Nuaimi’s RRR Racing, Clapton made his second start for trainer Chad Summers, recording a fourth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at Saratoga on Sept. 2.

“I was very happy with the way he was traveling,” said Christian Torres, who won three races Saturday at Churchill Downs. “Around the half-mile pole I could tell I had a lot of horse beneath me. I tipped him outside at the quarter-pole and he kept coming with his run. It’s been a great day and a great meet here at Churchill. Winning these big races is a great feeling.”

The Lukas Classic often produces runners for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 4, and Summers was asked about the next target.

“I’m so grateful to the owner for allowing me the opportunity to train this horse,” Summers said. “The goal is getting to the Dubai World Cup (G1). If that means taking us to the (Classic) that would be great. But, the goal is getting him over to Dubai in March.” 

Trademark, the 7.80-1 third choice, held second by about a length over Blue Devil. It was nearly another five lengths back to 13-10 favorite Rattle N Roll, who never made any impact from off the pace, and next came Happy American, Americanrevolution, Whelen Springs, and pacesetter Five Star General.

Bred in Florida by Arindel, Clapton is by Behrens and earned his first graded win earlier this season when upsetting the Ghostzapper (G3) at 21-1 odds. He was sold to new connections following a third in the Pimlico Special (G3) and a second in the Suburban (G2) in mid-July, and Clapton has now earned $823,450 from a 24-6-4-6 record.

Ack Ack (G3)

The $400,000 Ack Ack (G3) awarded a guaranteed berth to the Dirt Mile (G1) as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge series race, and Zozos added his first graded win after making all the pace. The odds-on favorite established tepid early splits of :23.69, :47.10, and 1:11.41 in the one-turn mile event, saving plenty for the finish as he held by a length on the wire with Florent Geroux.

The final time was 1:35.22.

Brad Cox, who trains the Barry and Joni Butzow homebred four-year-old colt, was not ready to commit Zozos to the Dirt Mile, citing the two-turn mile configuration at Santa Anita.

“I think he’s now a really good one-turn horse,” Cox said. “We’ll see who’s going where in the Breeders’ Cup and make a decision on his next start soon. I don’t know what we’d do if we don’t go to the Breeders’ Cup, but we’ll let this horse tell us what’s next. It’s a lot to ask of any horse to make the trip from Kentucky to California against some of the best horses in the world.”

Seven of the last 10 Ack Ack winners have competed in the Dirt Mile, but Geroux echoed Cox’s sentiments about distance configuration.

“He relaxed well on the front end and we were able to not go too fast early,” Geroux said. “I think he’s a different horse going around one-turn like he did today.”

Stage Raider tried to reel in Zozos in deep stretch, but the stalker had to settle for second, a length clear of late-running Three Technique in third. O Besos, Caddo River, Seize the Night, and Skyro completed the order.

A Kentucky-bred son of Munnings, Zozos finished second in last year’s Louisiana Derby (G2) after winning his first two starts at Fair Grounds. He headed to the sidelines following a 10th in the Kentucky Derby (G1), returning last December with an allowance win. Zozos picked up his first stakes win when taking the restricted Knicks Go Overnight S. at Churchill in early May, and he rolled to a convincing score in the Hanshin S. at Ellis Park two months later, winning both stakes at a mile distance.

The dark bay stretched out to two turns for the 1 1/16-mile Philip Iselin (G3) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 19, but weakened to fourth as the 1-2 choice. Zozos bounced back nicely in the Ack Ack, increasing his bankroll to $884,688 from an 11-7-1-0 record, and he will bring speed to future engagements.

Jefferson Cup

Victory Racing Partners’ More Than Looks kicked off the stakes action with a fast-closing victory in the $199,250 Jefferson Cup, mowing down Smokey Mandate and powering clear to a 2 3/4-length decision in the mile turf test for three-year-olds. Torres was up on the 1.63-1 favorite for Cherie DeVaux.

The bay colt was making his third stakes attempt, winning the Manila (G3) at Belmont Park two starts previously and finishing third to Carl Spackler in the Hall of Fame (G2) at Saratoga on Aug. 11. By More Than Ready, More Than Looks improved his career record to 7-4-1-1.

He raced far back until launching his move near the conclusion of the far turn and still had plenty of work to do while entering the stretch wide. More Than Looks found another gear after straightening for home, rallying boldly to overtake Smokey Mandate, who stalked up-close before advancing to a clear lead in the stretch.

It was a big gap back to Worthington in third, and Ocean Pointe, Noises Off, Ocean Vision, pacesetter Gaslight Dancer, Tiverton, and Midnight West followed.

A $135,000 yearling purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September sale, More Than Looks stopped the teletimer in 1:36.55 over the firm turf.