He competed in the 2000s while having connections whose impact on the sport dated well back to the twentieth century. And for one trainer, he became that one special horse everyone hopes to find.
Bred to be a win-early type, Papa Clem continued that trend by posing for his first winner's photo in his third start. That came at the tail end of the 2008 season, which gave him some momentum to build on as a three-year-old.
After winning with the sprint-to-route angle, Papa Clem embarked on the Kentucky Derby prep season. He started it out with a pair of runner-up efforts in Santa Anita's Gade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Grade II Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, but his big moment came in the Grade II Arkansas Derby. Staying off the pace after dictating it in his last two starts, Papa Clem came on in the stretch to secure his spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Being a part of the annual Triple Crown opener was newsworthy, for Papa Clem's trainer was Gary Stute, the son of legendary Southern California-based trainer Mel Stute. Some twenty-three years after Mel saddled Snow Chief in the big race, Gary had finally found his Derby horse. What's more, the owner and breeder of Papa Clem was Bo Hirsch, whose father, Clement L. Hirsch, was a highly respected figure in California racing. It made for an interesting story: second-generation members of racing families teaming up and on the verge of capturing the race everyone wants to win.
Unfortunately, the Derby eluded Papa Clem and the connections, though the Smart Strike offspring ran well over the slop at Churchill Downs. He gained some off-track experience back in the Louisana Derby, and it paid off for him under the Twin Spires. In contention for the majority of the race, Papa Clem got as high as third in the stretch before getting nosed out and having to settle for fourth. Still, there was no shame in the performance.
Following the Kentucky Derby, Papa Clem's second season at the races comprised a mixed bag. Competing solely against stakes company, his best results were a pair of thirds in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Grade I Malibu in his season finale at Santa Anita. But another big win awaited the colt as an older horse.
Entered in the Grade II San Fernando Stakes a few weeks into the 2010 campaign, Papa Clem stayed in the early mix traveling around Santa Anita's main track. Favored to win the second leg of the Strub Series, he did not disappoint. He held off a dogged charge by Smart Bid in the stretch to take the race while finishing up his career with another race win.
As a stallion, Papa Clem is not without success. Among his progeny are Cal-bred stakes winners Hirschy, Mischief Clem, My Italian Babbo and Tribal Storm, stakes winner Magic Spot, and the stakes placed Mon Petite. Years after being part of the stakes ranks in Southern California, Papa Clem has stayed a part of that echelon throughout the state thanks to his offspring.
Though not a win machine, Papa Clem definitely turned out to be a nice horse who exhibited class. For Gary Stute, he became that horse all trainers want: a stakes winner who makes his way to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Longtime followers of racing in the Southland no doubt picked up on the fact that Papa Clem's owner and trainer were scions of prominent racing families, and it is probably safe to say that many loved to see both Stute and Bo Hirsch have major success during the 2009 and early 2010 seasons.
And Papa Clem deserved all the success he gained. He was a fine racehorse in the opening decade of the millennium, but he was also a symbol of California racing's past.