If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, you’re probably checking the weather every few hours to ensure travel conditions are ideal at both ends of your journey. While you’re at it, I suggest you check the forecast for Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs, which could have quite an impact on Friday’s $600,000 Clark Stakes Presented by Norton Healthcare.
The final Grade 1 race of the year in Kentucky, the 1 1/8-mile Clark typically draws a competitive blend of experienced veterans and improving 3-year-olds, with the 2019 edition being no exception. A dozen horses have been entered, and there are plenty of logical contenders to consider.
Weather forecasts call for Louisville to be doused with rain this week, and while the majority will fall on Saturday, there’s a chance for rain on Friday afternoon as well. If the track comes up sloppy, it could change the complexion of the Clark, most notably putting Grade 3 Lukas Classic Stakes winner Mocito Rojo (#3) at a disadvantage.
One runner who shouldn’t be affected by wet going is Seeking the Soul (#11), a tried-and-true Churchill Downs specialist with four wins, two seconds, and four thirds from 12 starts on Louisville’s famous racetrack. The son of Perfect Soul handled a sloppy, sealed track just fine in January in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park, rallying to finish second against a high-quality field.
But while Seeking the Soul ran well in the Pegasus, his biggest victories have all come at Churchill Downs. His determined late rallies have carried him to triumphs in the 2017 Clark Handicap, 2018 Ack Ack Stakes (Grade 3), and the 2019 Stephen Foster Stakes (Grade 2), showcasing an affinity for Churchill Downs that none of his Clark rivals can match.
Some handicappers will be tempted to play against Seeking the Soul since he’s been soundly beaten in his last three starts. But these defeats came while facing top-class company on the slow and tiring tracks at Del Mar and Santa Anita in California, and I’d argue he ran better than it appears when fourth in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes and sixth in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Seeking the Soul was compromised by a slow pace and speed-favoring track in the Awesome Again, while the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic is longer than he prefers.
Returning to Churchill Downs and cutting back to 1 1/8 miles could make a big difference for Seeking the Soul, setting him up for a return to peak form. His workouts remain as sharp as ever — he cruised five-eighths of a mile in a quick :59.80 on Nov. 21 — and his best Beyer and Brisnet Speed Figures mark him as one of the fastest horses in the Clark field.
Even better, Seeking the Soul should receive a perfect pace setup. There’s plenty of speed in the Clark, with a half-dozen runners preferring to race on or near the lead. A contested pace should be in the offing, making Seeking the Soul’s late-running style all the more dangerous.
Among the potential speed horses is Tom’s d’Etat (#2), the probable Clark favorite based off his decisive victory in the Grade 2 Hagyard Fayette Stakes running 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland last month. The son of Smart Strike splashed his way over a sloppy, sealed track to win by 4 ¼ lengths with fast speed figures, and he’s versatile enough to rate off the pace if necessary.
But drawing post two could be problematic for Tom’s d’Etat since he risks getting buried behind runners if not aggressively ridden to maintain his position. And an aggressive ride in a race filled with speed could stretch the limits of Tom’s d’Etat’s stamina. Take note, he weakened to finish third behind Seeking the Soul in the 2019 Stephen Foster after carving out the early pace.
Tom’s d’Etat remains a logical contender to finish on the board, but for win purposes, I prefer to play Seeking the Soul at a better price. A win bet on the Churchill Downs specialist is definitely in order, and I’ll also play him in the exacta with Tom’s d’Etat and Fayette Stakes runner-up Mr Freeze (#9).
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$9 to win on #11 Seeking the Soul
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $9 to win on 11.
$3 exacta: 11 with 2,9 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $3 exacta 11 with 2,9
$5 exacta: 2 with 11 ($5)
What to say at the betting window: Churchill Downs, 11th race, $5 exacta 2 with 11
Good luck, and enjoy the race!