Not only did Charles Fipke’s homebred Seeking the Soul break through for his first stakes win on Nov. 24, he did it at the highest level when he rallied to victory in the $500,000, Grade 1 Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare at Churchill Downs.
Celebrating his 46th birthday, Racing Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez and Seeking the Soul split favorite Diversify and Goats Town in early stretch then held off late runners Good Samaritan and 2014 Clark winner Hoppertunity to score a half-length victory.
The far-turn rally by Seeking the Soul, in which he saved some ground while Hoppertunity circled horses and Good Samaritan rallied widest of all, certainly helped his cause in the 1 1/8-mile race, which he completed in 1:48.88.
Seeking the Soul, a 4-year-old son of Perfect Soul, settled off the pace set by Diversify and Irad Ortiz Jr. through a quarter-mile in :23.34 and a half-mile in :47.35. Seeking the Soul raced in seventh early, saving ground through the first turn. Racing sixth in the far turn, Seeking the Soul and Velazquez raced comfortably in a crowd while gaining ground.
Diversify, looking for a fourth straight win following his Jockey Club Gold Cup score Oct. 7 at Belmont Park, turned for home with the lead after six furlongs in 1:11.44, but he would come up empty in the stretch. As Diversify called it an evening, a trio of closers took over.
Seeking the Soul slipped through toward the inside while Hoppertunity and Good Samaritan rallied widest of all. Seeking the Soul angled out in the stretch, enough that Florent Geroux, aboard Hoppertunity, would object, but the stewards found no interference and let the result stand.
“He corrected him right away by just showing him the whip and got clear,” said Velazquez, who ditched the white liner on his cap before the race after an apparent goggle issue and rode in a black helmet. “It’s a great honor to win a race like this for Mr. Fipke and Dallas [Stewart].”
On Sept. 30 at Churchill, Seeking the Soul earned the second Grade 3 placing of his career when third in the Lukas Classic Stakes. He would signal his readiness for a return to graded stakes action in is next start, an allowance-optional claiming race Oct. 21 at Keeneland, where he drew off to a nine-length victory. Stewart even considered a target bigger than the Clark after that impressive score.
“After he won his last start at Keeneland, I really wanted to run him right back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Stewart said. “But I settled down and thought about it and pointed him for this race.”
Friday’s win added to a big month for Seeking the Soul’s connections as Fipke, trainer Stewart, and Velazquez won the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at the beginning of the month at Del Mar with Forever Unbridled.
Seeking the Soul returned $17.80, $8.60, and $5 across the board while Good Samaritan paid $7 to place and $4.40 to show. Hoppertunity also paid $4.40 to show. Two-time Grade 2 winner Good Samaritan secured his first top-three finish in a Grade 1.
Seeking the Soul is one of two starters, both winners, out of Grade 3 winner Seeking the Title.