Graded stakes winner Neck ‘n Neck out of Clark Handicap

The inevitable valleys that often follow Thoroughbred racing’s peaks hit trainer Ian Wilkes this weekend as his graded stakes winner Neck ‘n Neck was declared out of Friday’s Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs after emerging from Sunday’s workout with a sesamoid fracture to his left front leg.

Wilkes, who saddled Fort Larned to victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park earlier this month, said Neck ‘n Neck looked well while breezing five furlongs in 1:02.80 at Churchill this Sunday but was discovered to be lame soon after. The 3-year-old son of Flower Alley will have surgery on Wednesday and be sidelined for at least six months, but Wilkes is hopeful the colt can make a comeback for 2013.

“He worked good, I thought man, we’re right on schedule, right where we want to be,” Wilkes said Tuesday morning. “He cooled out good but when his groom went to do him up he was lame, he was a little off. We x-rayed him and found the fracture. (Owner) Steven Miles is a player, he’s a sport so we’re going to take a shot and see if we can get him back.”

Neck ‘n Neck was expected to be among the favorites for the 1 1/8-miles Clark Handicap, which is also expected to feature multiple Grade I winner Shackleford and graded stakes winner Bourbon Courage. The dark bay colt took the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill on June 16 and was coming into the Clark off back-to-back scores in the Grade III Ack Ack Stakes there on November 2 and a win over Bourbon Courage in the Grade II Indiana Derby at Hoosier on October 6.

“I thought this (the Clark) was the race that was going to tell us a lot,” Wilkes said of Neck ‘n Neck. “Because I really think the horse has just gotten better and better. I was actually so excited looking forward to next year with two older horses. Between Fort Larned and Neck ‘n Neck I thought man, I’m going to be spoiled next year and then…you get kicked in the gut. That’s the way it goes, that’s racing. You don’t get used to these things, they’re tough.”