Leofric seized the lead in the stretch and then held off Bravazo late for a neck win in the Grade 1, $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare on Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs.
The win marked the first Grade 1 score for Steve Landers Racing's Leofric, and also served as a formal announcement of what should be a formidable handicap horse for 2019 as trainer Brad Cox said the plan is to race the son of Candy Ride as a 6-year-old next season.
After not racing at three and not earning his maiden win until his 4-year-old debut, Leofric has put it all together this season, including an impressive Kentucky sweep this fall as he entered the Clark off an Oct. 27 victory in the Hagyard Fayette Stakes at Keeneland.
Interviewed in the winner's circle by Churchill publicity after the race, Cox credited the patience of owner Landers and the excitement of Leofric progressing this summer and fall.
"If you get in a fight with him, he's going to give you all he's got," Cox said.
Early on in Friday’s 1 1/8-mile race, Leofric settled in fourth along the rail as Prime Attraction – who nearly led every step in the Fayette Stakes before Leofric got up in the final strides to win by a head – cruised through a quarter-mile in :23.56. Jockey Florent Geroux and Leofric continued to rate inside as Prime Attraction punched a half-mile in :47.58. Leofric saved ground into the turn, and then – responding to a cue from Geroux – he launched his drive.
That well-timed move would prevent Leofric from getting stuck on the rail and, quickly up to full speed and in the clear, he seized the lead just before the quarter pole as 2018 Preakness Stakes runner-up Bravazo took up the chase to his outside. In early stretch, favored Seeking the Soul and John Velazquez looked for room in a bid to repeat their 2017 Clark win.
Leofric would show that fight Cox talked about, as the favorite flattened and Leofric found more to hold off Bravazo. Leofric would prevail by a neck at the wire, completing the race in 1:48.59 on a fast track.
"We had a great trip in the pocket the entire way around. That made the difference. This is a really nice horse," Geroux said. "He's had some great preparation by Brad (Cox) and his team before this race. He fought Bravazo the whole way until the wire. I'm so proud of his effort. He had a really tough beat in the Razorback Handicap (where he finished second Feb. 19 at Oaklawn Park) and then got hurt and took some time off. He had a great summer of preparation for this start."
Jockey Joel Rosario said Bravazo ran a nice race to finish second.
"I'm so proud of his effort. He ran really hard today," Rosario said. "We had a great trip just off of the pace and I tipped him towards the outside around the three-eighths pole and he started to pick off horses. He tried the entire way down the lane and we almost got the job done."