Giant Oak breaks through in Clark Handicap
Giant Oak spent most of the last year teasing trainer Chris Block, coming so close in a series of big races Block wondered if his massive but mercurial colt would ever come through.
For a few moments Friday at Churchill Downs, it appeared Giant Oak had teased his connections once more, finishing second by a head to Successful Dan in the $500,000 Clark Handicap.
Then the objection sign went up and chaos broke out.
It took stewards 15 minutes to siphon through the mess before awarding Giant Oak and his trainer a long-awaited victory. Officials elevated Giant Oak from second to first after ruling Successful Dan interfered with Redding Colliery, who initially finished third, at the top of the stretch.
It wasn't exactly the way Block planned it, but after so many near misses, he wasn't complaining.
''This guy, we've worked so hard getting him where he's at today, this has to rank right up there,'' Block said.
Successful Dan went off as 9-5 favorite and appeared to claim his third straight win when he outdueled Giant Oak to the wire.
Yet officials took exception with a pair of collisions between Successful Dan and Redding Colliery when the field of 11 turned for home and dropped Successful Dan to third.
Redding Colliery jockey Rosie Napravnik said Successful Dan's antics ended her own bid for the win.
''He slammed me pretty hard,'' she said. ''He knocked us completely off stride.''
Successful Dan trainer Charlie Lopresti argued his horse did nothing wrong, claiming Demarcation's sudden move to the inside forced Successful Dan and jockey Julien Leparoux to the outside and into Redding Colliery's path.
''It was a terrible call,'' Lopresti said. ''Up there in the stretch that horse (Demarcation) came over on us and knocked us into the other horse and after that we're clearly the winner.''
Officials ruled otherwise. Kentucky chief steward John Veitch said there was no indication that Demarcation's move had anything to do with Successful Dan's eventful trip.
''We couldn't see any evidence of that,'' Veitch said.
Officials also dropped Demarcation from fourth to last for colliding with Dubious Miss.
A roar went up when Giant Oak's No. 4 was moved from second to first on the tote board. The 4-year-old colt paid $24.20, $10 and $5 for his first graded stakes victory while covering the 1 1-8 mile race in 1:50.82.
Giant Oak had never reached the winner's circle in a graded race, coming close several times. He was fourth in the Clark last year, and second in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap in October. That performance led Block to enter his horse in the Breeders' Cup Marathon, where he slipped to fifth.
Yet Block knew Giant Oak liked the dirt under the twin spires and had a good feeling when he saw Giant Oak take on Successful Dan in the stretch. So did Bridgmohan, who rode Giant Oak in the Clark last fall.
''There's no telling how much talent this horse has,'' said Bridgmohan. ''I always tell Chris one of these days in the right spot he's going to show up and it just happened to come in a Grade 1 today.''
Redding Colliery returned $6 and $3.80, and Successful Dan paid $3 to show.
Giant Oak's win sends him off to Florida for the winter with some serious momentum. Block plans to have his budding star spend a couple of months in Ocala before sending him to Louisiana to begin his 2011 campaign. The hope is Giant Oak can return to Churchill Downs next fall for another shot in the Breeders' Cup.
''We know he loves this surface so hopefully we'll be back,'' Block said.