Graded turfers Ghost Hunter, Ring Weekend clash in Henry S. Clark
Ghost Hunter. Photo by The Racing Biz.
From a Maryland Jockey Club release
A deep field of 14 horses led by graded-stakes winners Ring Weekend, Ghost Hunter and El Areeb, the latter entered for his turf debut, and multiple grass stakes winner Phlash Phelps help comprise a competitive edition of the $100,000 Henry S. Clark Saturday at Laurel Park.
The 18th running of the one-mile Clark for 3-year-olds and up over the Dahlia Turf Course is among five stakes worth $550,000 in purses on an 11-race Spring Stakes Spectacular program. Also on the grass is the $100,000 Dahlia for fillies and mares 3 and up on the All Along Turf Course layout.
Highlighting Saturday’s card are the $125,000 Federico Tesio for 3-year-olds and $125,000 Weber City Miss for 3-year-old fillies, ‘Win and You’re In’ races for the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1) May 19 and $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) May 18, respectively, at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
Also on the program is the $100,000 Primonetta for fillies and mares going six furlongs on the main track. The Primonetta, Clark and Dahlia each received $25,000 purse increases from 2017.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Grade 1 winner Ring Weekend owns eight victories from 30 lifetime starts and nearly $1.6 million in purse earnings, but will be racing for just the second time in his career at Laurel. The 7-year-old Tapit gelding, trained by Graham Motion, was third by 1 ¼ lengths in the Baltimore-Washington International Turf Cup (G2) in September, run at the Clark distance.
“He actually ran a good race there last fall. My idea is to keep him around for more of these local races than taking on the heavy heads, and I think he can have a very useful year doing that,” Motion said. “I feel very strongly that he wants a mile and he wants firm ground. I guess now that he’s 7, I should have figured out what he really wants, right? Even though I’ve tried some other things I think the mile and the firm ground is what he wants.”
Ring Weekend began his career on the dirt winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and running fifth in the 2014 Preakness behind two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome. His graded turf wins have come in the 2015 Kilroe Mile (G1), 2016 Bernard Baruch (G2) and Seabiscuit (G2) and 2014 Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G3).
“He’s like a barn favorite. He’s been a very cool horse to have around,” Motion said. “At times it’s been a little bit frustrating. We’ve had some little issues with him but he’s been a remarkably fun horse to have, for sure.”
This year Ring Weekend came from off the pace to win a one-mile optional claiming allowance Feb. 11 at Gulfstream, his first race in nearly five months, and then was fifth by less than four lengths in Fair Grounds’ Muniz Memorial Handicap (G2) March 24 at about 1 1/16 miles.
Feargal Lynch is named to ride from Post 4. All horses will carry 118 pounds.
“He came back and ran a huge race off the layoff. He really likes the firm ground at Gulfstream. He likes that distance,” Motion said. “There wasn’t a lot of options for his second start and we went out and ran him a mile and an eighth on a turf course that he really didn’t care for. He ran fifth and didn’t get beaten that far, and didn’t get a perfect trip.”
Motion also entered Flaxman Holdings homebred Bolting, a 5-year-old son of War Front that ran in back-to-back graded stakes upon arriving from France last summer and went unraced from late July until running ninth in the Danger’s Hour Stakes April 8 at Aqueduct in his comeback.
“He ran very disappointingly the other day. We’re still trying to figure out what it is he wants to do,” Motion said. “He’s from a really good family in Europe and has just been kind of a frustrating horse. He works very well in the morning and has been a little disappointing in the afternoon.”
Triple K Stables and Jagger Inc’s Ghost Hunter will be making his 51st career start in the Clark, the same race where he kicked off his 7-year-old season last April. Now 8, the son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper was third by a half-length in last year’s Clark before going on to earn his first graded triumph in the Arlington Handicap (G3) three months later.
Trainer Jamie Ness gave Ghost Hunter a break after the bay gelding ran second in the Presque Isle Downs Mile and a one-mile, 70-yard allowance over the track’s synthetic surface, the latter in early October.
“Everything’s good. This is kind of the way we started our year last year, with this race. I laid him off all winter and I’ve been pointing him for this race,” Ness said. “So far everything’s been fine. He’s doing good. He’s getting a little older now, a little long in the tooth, but we give him a lot of breaks and that helps him stay competitive so we’re expecting a big effort.”
Frankie Pennington will come in from Parx to ride Ghost Hunter from Post 10.
Ness and Jagger Inc. will also be represented in the Clark by Even Thunder, a 4-year-old Even the Score gelding that has yet to race on turf. He was claimed for $40,000 out of a third-place finish Feb. 17 at Parx and returned to win third-level optional claiming allowance going one mile March 31.
“I want to try him on the turf and I’ve got no other place to run him right now so we’re going to give him a chance in the race,” Ness said. “I train him here at the training center on the turf and he seems to get over it OK. I’m not sure about turf in the future or not but this will help tell us. We’re just kind of taking a shot and see.”
MMG Stables’ El Areeb has made all 10 of his career starts on dirt including stakes wins in the 2016 James Lewis III at Laurel and Jerome (G3) and Withers (G3) that put him among the leading 3-year-olds of 2017 before an injury training for the Wood Memorial (G2) knocked him off the Triple Crown trail.
He has raced three times since his comeback, all in Laurel sprints, with his best finish coming in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance March 30 where he led for a half-mile and was still in contention at the top of the stretch before finishing fourth as the favorite, beaten 1 ¼ lengths, in a race where jockey J.D. Acosta dropped his whip.
Winter-spring meet-leading rider Jorge Vargas Jr. inherits the mount on El Areeb from Post 6.
Hillwood Stables’ popular Maryland-bred Phlash Phelps ran third in the 2016 Clark but missed last year’s race and only had one start in 2017, winning the six-furlong Mister Diz but exiting the race with bone bruising that prematurely ended his season.
Winner of the 2015 and 2016 Maryland Million Turf and 2015 Find Stakes, Phlash Phelps was diagnosed at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. and was given plenty of time off at Dark Hollow Farm, returning to trainer Rodney Jenkins Feb. 1.
“It’s kind of a treat for after the long winter we’ve had to have him back,” Jenkins said. “He’s doing well. He hasn’t run in  months but he’s very sound and doing well. Hee never did limp any, he just needed time they said so I gave it to him. He came back to me and has been working well and looks wonderful. He’s 7 now and we’ll have to see. No matter what, he’s going to try.”
Sheldon Russell replaces regular rider Victor Carrasco, nearing his return from a broken right leg suffered last fall at Delaware Park, from Post 12.
Also entered are 2016 Laurel Futurity winner Caribou Club; 2017 Tenacious Stakes winner Cooptado; 2017 English Channel Stakes winner Dalarna; Doctor Mounty, 3-for-4 lifetime at Laurel for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey; Celebration, Econometric, Glorious Empire and Murad Khan.
The Henry S. Clark is named for the Hall of Fame conditioner known as the ‘Dean of Maryland Trainers’ who remained active on the backstretch until his death in February 1999 at age 95. Clark’s grandfather, William Jennings, trained 1887 Preakness winner Dunboyne.