Last at the top of the stretch, Seek Gold closed from out of the clouds to steal the $844,500 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) from Perfect Drift at the wire at odds of 91-1 at Churchill Downs Saturday.
Making his first start for new owners Kristi Couch and Ted Bowman (Bowman Couch Racing LLC), who purchased the 6-year-old Touch Gold
gelding from Robert La Penta in a package deal, Seek Gold, previously trained by Nick Zito, hadn't won in more than two years. Trainer Ronald Moquett earned his first grade I victory.
"This horse has run great races over this track, at this distance, against these caliber horses," Moquett said. "There's no way he should have went off at those odds. I'm a big fan of the gambling public, but this is one where I think they might look back and say, 'Oops.'"
In a roughly run stretch duel, the 10-1 shot Perfect Drift, with Mark Guidry aboard, blasted to the lead just past the furlong pole while charging six wide through the lane. Perfect Drift appeared comfortably in front except for the rallying Seek Gold and Calvin Borel, who was clear of the traffic and 12-wide when set down for the drive. They closed in the middle of the track while quickly passing rivals. The longest shot in the field, Seek Gold reached the wire first under left-handed urging with a final lunge.
"I thought I had won it," said Borel, who notched his 31st stakes victory at Churchill Downs and his first in the Stephen Foster. "I didn't want to go by him (Perfect Drift) because I know how he is. He's a horse that needs something to pick off. I waited as long as I could. We just wanted to take our horse back and make one run."
The victory was worth $502,646 to Couch and Bowman, who told ESPN they claimed their first horse for $5,000 Jan. 20.
The upset led to a raucous celebration, with Borel slapping the horse across the neck and pointing in the stands yelling, "I told you so."
It was a scene Moquett could hardly have imagined when Bowman Couch Racing bought Seek Gold.
Zito had nominated both Seek Gold and Go Now to the Foster before the horses were sold. Having no real feel for two horses just brought into his stable, Moquett said he would enter one in the race, but left it up to Borel to choose. Borel went with Seek Gold, saying he thought the horse's speed would make him competitive.
"Calvin told me he's honest and he'll ride, he empties out every time," Moquett said.
Seek Gold won for the fifth time in 28 lifetime starts. His earnings soared to $887,635. The best previous race for Seek Gold came at Churchill Downs in November 2004 in the Clark Handicap (gr. II) when he rallied from far back to finish second behind Saint Liam. He edged Perfect Drift by a nose for the runner-up spot in that race.
The longest price in the 25-year-history of the Stephen Foster, Seek Gold paid $185.40, $41.20, and $13.20. The 7-year-old gelding, Perfect Drift, who won the Foster in 2003 and ran third in each of the past two editions, returned $8.20 and $4.60. West Virginia, piloted by Garrettt Gomez, was 1 3/4 lengths behind in third, paying $5.60 to show.
Guidry said he thought Perfect Drift resorted to an old habit of easing up when he gained the lead in the stretch.
"I thought we had it won," said Guidry. "He pulled up a little bit; he was getting a little bit bored."
"If he had my nose, we would have won," said trainer Murray Johnson. "We can't win them all, but we thought we had that one."
Perfect Drift, whose career record now stands at 11-11-5 in 38 races, earned $162,144 for his runner-up finish to boost his career bankroll to $4,470,483.
Buzzards Bay, crowded through the stretch run, flattened out and finished fourth as the 7-5 choice in the field of nine. The second choice, Brass Hat, stuck his head in front briefly in upper stretch but lacked room in the stretch as well and settled for a deadheat for fifth with Wiggins. Then came M B Sea, Love Of Money, and Comsonaut. Wild Desert scratched.
Lakeside Stable's Colonial Colony, a 62-1 shot, set the previous Foster record for biggest payoff when he won over a "sloppy" track in 2004 and paid $127.20 to win.