First Forever Unbridled, now stablemate Seeking the Soul, have made it a November to remember for owner/breeder Charles Fipke, trainer Dallas Stewart, and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. Forever Unbridled furnished the trophy in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on November 3, and Seeking the Soul completed the set of bookends with a new career high in Friday’s $500,000 Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs.
A descendant of the unbeaten Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, Seeking the Soul was coming off a nine-length, track-record romp in a third-level Keeneland allowance. The four-year-old was let go at 7-1 here, his stakes history not matching up to the likes of Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) hero Diversify, the 7-5 favorite; past Jockey Club Gold Cup and Clark champion Hoppertunity; Jim Dandy (G2) winner Good Samaritan; or Honorable Duty, who had left Seeking the Soul well back in third in the September 30 Lukas Classic (G3) at this track and trip.
But Seeking the Soul was on the upgrade, and ready to take his game to another level. Diversify helped by racing too eagerly in his customary pacesetting role, not relaxing as he winged it through fractions of :23.34, :47.35, and 1:11.44 on the fast track. Meanwhile, Seeking the Soul was settled in the latter part of the field, trailed only by Good Samaritan and Hoppertunity. The eventual trifecta were the last three in the early going, an indicator of Diversify’s robust gallop.
Velazquez executed the winning move as he saved ground on the far turn, and Seeking the Soul had the gears to exploit the seam between foes. Overtaking the sputtering Diversify in midstretch, he took command, then drifted. Good Samaritan was rallying wider out, with Hoppertunity to his inside, but they didn’t appear to be gaining fast enough to accost Seeking the Soul. The winner had a half-length advantage over Good Samaritan at the wire.
Hoppertunity, in a bit tight between them, reported home another length back in third. Jockey Florent Geroux lodged a claim of foul against Velazquez on Seeking the Soul, but upon review, the stewards made no change. Indeed, Hoppertunity was beaten at the time, attempting to give Seeking the Soul seven pounds as the 123-pound co highweight. Whatever his waywardness, Seeking the Soul was best on the day, and his backers reaped a $17.80 win payout.
Diversify, the other co-highweight, was a laboring fourth. Perhaps his first start outside of New York was a salutary learning experience for the Rick Violette trainee. The Player, Destin, Goats Town, and Mo Tom completed the order of finish. Honorable Duty, who shortened stride abruptly on the far turn, was pulled up but walked off.
By negotiating 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.88, Seeking the Soul improved his scorecard to 17-5-3-5, $551,162. The May 4 foal was unraced at two, broke his maiden at Churchill third time out at three, and was ambitiously pitched into the 2016 Belmont (G1). Although he found the waters too deep in 12th, Seeking the Soul was none the worse for swinging for the fences, and he went on to place third in last fall’s Smarty Jones (G3) at Parx as well as Churchill’s off-the-turf Jefferson Cup (G3). He spent most of his ensuing months plying his trade in allowance company, and the maturing colt benefited from coming through the ranks.
The Kentucky-bred is a son of fellow Fipke homebreds, being by Perfect Soul and out of the Grade 3-winning Seeking the Gold mare Seeking the Title. Seeking the Soul’s second dam, Title Seeker, is an unraced daughter of Monarchos and Personal Ensign.
Quotes from Churchill Downs
Winning rider John Velazquez: “I watched the race at Keeneland in his last start and he got really aggressive in the stretch. I got him out around the eighth pole and he drifted out a little bit but I don’t think the third-place finisher would have won anyway. I corrected him right away by just showing him the whip and got clear. It’s a great honor to win a race like this for Mr. Fipke and Dallas. It’s been a really good month.”
Trainer Dallas Stewart on Seeking the Soul: “It’s been a great month. This horse is the (great) grandson to Personal Ensign so he is very well-bred. I’m so happy to win another Grade 1 for Mr. Fipke. He’s allowed me to space out his races and I think that’s helped in his development. It was a great effort and a great accomplishment to win the Clark. I haven’t really thought about next year yet. I’ll enjoy this race and have a great dinner tonight.
“He doesn’t really like the whip he gets all over the racetrack. I told (previous rider) Brian (Hernandez Jr.) in his last start to not hit him with the stick and try it out and it really worked. He’s mean but he’s a big and healthy horse.
“After he won the allowance race in his last start at Keeneland I really wanted to run him right back in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) but I settled down and thought about it and pointed him for this race. I think we got a bit aggressive with him early in his career when we tried in the Belmont Stakes, but I knew he was that caliber of horse.”
Jockey Joel Rosario on runner-up Good Samaritan: “He put in a good run at the end. I thought for a second we were going to get the horse on the lead, but the one on the lead just looked like he had another gear, so it was a little tough to go by him. But it was good effort for him.”
Good Samaritan’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott: “He ran an awfully good race. You can’t take anything away from the winner, but we ran well. He had a pretty good trip. He had to maybe tap on the brakes a little bit at the half-mile pole, so I guess I’ve got to see it again. But he ran up there and had his chance to win and we just didn’t get it done, but he ran a very good race.
“We wanted to shorten him up to a mile and an eighth. We wanted to go a mile or a mile and an eighth with him and that’s what we did. When he came out of his last race (fourth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup) this was the first race I thought of, then we started to consider the Cigar Mile (G1), but we opted for this one.
“He’ll go to WinStar for two or three weeks and then he’ll join up with us in Florida, I guess.”
Florent Geroux, who rode third-placer Hoppertunity: “He made a nice run on the turn and I thought I might have it for a minute. I had to steady a little bit at about 50 yards, so I didn’t really know if the 2 (Seeking the Soul) really came out.”
Jim Barnes, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s assistant, on Hoppertunity: “He ran very well. He dropped back early. That’s the way he runs; he doesn’t have that early speed and if he didn’t have to go so wide maybe he could have gotten there. The 2 (Seeking the Soul) was definitely coming out. At least we placed. He was running, so did have hopes that he might get there. But he ran third, so we have a Grade 1-placing and we’re in good shape.”
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. on Diversify, fourth as the favorite: “He broke a little slow, but he’s so fast so he made the lead on his own. He was cruising, but about the three-eighths pole it seemed he didn’t handle the track well. He was stumbling a little bit, and I think he lost the bit. But he still ran a good race. He got beat by good horses.”