Seeking the Soul was excluded from the Breeders' Cup Classic last season when he failed to make the earnings cutoff for a loaded field. But owner/breeder Charles Fipke and trainer Dallas Stewart won't be haunted by disappointment this year, at least not where eligibility is concerned.
The 6-year-old son of Perfect Soul punched his ticket to the marquee event June 15 with a determined neck victory over Quip in the $600,000, Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes, a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race at Churchill Downs.
"They can't take it away from us, we got our golden ticket," Stewart said. "This is a great horse. He's a 6-year-old who acts like a young horse. He's very energetic about his training and about life. Chuck Fipke, he's got the momma (dam) and the daddy (sire), and he's one of the greatest breeders ever."
Seeking the Soul closed from sixth under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and ran down Quip and Tom's d'Etat after those two showed the way for most of the 1 1/8-mile test. The final time was 1:49.27.
"We will definitely be in the Breeders' Cup Classic this year," Stewart said. "This horse is so special to our entire barn. We have to thank Mr. Fipke for allowing us to train him. With family and friends here tonight, this is as good as it gets – we're in the Classic."
Tom's d'Etat set the pace Saturday, leading the field of 12 older horses with Quip matching strides about a half-length back to his outside. Meanwhile, Seeking the Soul, sent off as the 4.60-1 third betting choice, had a perfect tracking trip down the backstretch.
As the horses reached the top of the stretch, Quip drew even with Tom's d'Etat and took over with three-sixteenths to run. Seeking the Soul moved into third and was full of run in the clear from the outside as he powered down the stretch to engage the leaders. He collared the front-runners with a sixteenth of a mile to run and edged clear for the win.
After Quip and Tom's d'Etat came Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino winner Gift Box, who invaded from Southern California as the 2.10-1 favorite with Joel Rosario riding.
"They went pretty slow up front and he just couldn't close into the leaders," Rosario said.
The Stephen Foster was the third graded stakes win for Seeking the Soul, who won the 2017 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare and last year's Ack Ack Stakes, both at Churchill. After winning the Ack Ack, Seeking the Soul finished second to City of Light in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
Following an eighth-place finish in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, the bay runner returned to the states and Churchill for the May 4 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet and finished third behind McKinzie and Tom's d'Etat. The winner's share of the Stephen Foster purse lifted his earnings to $3,335,802 from a 7-6-7 record in 27 starts. He was bred in Kentucky out of the Grade 3-winning Seeking the Gold mare Seeking the Title.
“He ran really well here the last time out, and we knew coming from Dubai he probably wasn't going to be 100%," Velazquez said. "Today he was right back to where he normally is, high energy. As soon as I broke out there and got into the first turn, he was a little more aggressive than I want him to be. He's never been that close in the first part of the race. But I got him back to where I wanted him to be, got comfortable where he was, and then down the stretch, pulling out, he had it."