Not only did Charles Fipke's homebred Seeking the Soul break through for his first stakes win Nov. 24, he did it at the highest level when he rallied to victory in the $500,000 Clark Handicap presented by Norton Healthcare (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Celebrating birthday 46, 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 test, 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 (G1) 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 would take over.
Seeking the Soul would slip through toward the inside while Hoppertunity and Good Samaritan would rally widest of all. Seeking the Soul came 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 himself 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."
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."
"It's been a great month," Stewart said. "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."
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 grade 1-placing. Diversify, the 7-5 favorite, faded to fourth.
"He ran an awfully good race," said Good Samaritan's trainer Bill Mott by phone. "You can't take anything away from the winner but we ran well."
Seeking the Soul is one of two starters, both winners, out of grade 3 winner Seeking the Title.