Is Seeking the Soul Unstoppable in the Clark Handicap?
As we approach the end of 2018 and enter the winter racing season, only two Grade 1 dirt races for older horses remain to be run this year, and one of them—the $500,000 Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs—is coming up this Friday.That said, on paper, this year’s renewal of the nine-furlong event bears a greater resemblance to a quality Grade 2 than a true Grade 1, which could give an advantage to #3 Seeking the Soul, the lone Grade 1 winner in the field.
Notably, Seeking the Soul secured that Grade 1 win in the 2017 Clark Handicap, when he rallied strongly from off the pace to win by a half-length against a deep field that included the graded stakes winners Good Samaritan and Hoppertunity. And while Seeking the Soul was beaten in his first three starts of 2018, he’s rounded back into form quite nicely since returning to Churchill Downs, overcoming a slow pace to win the Ack Ack Stakes (gr. III) before finishing a clear second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I), earning a career-best 108 BRIS speed figure.
With his strong speed figures, established class, and clear affinity for Churchill Downs, Seeking the Soul looms as the horse to beat while defending his Clark title. It’s going to be tough for anyone to hold him off in the homestretch, though if anyone can get the job done it might be #5 Leofric, a consistent and classy five-year-old who hasn’t finished out of the top three in his last ten starts. Two starts back, he ran a gallant race to set the pace and finish third in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I), beaten just a nose for second place by future Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) runner-up Gunnevera. And most recently, Leofric battled gamely with #1 Prime Attraction in the Fayette Stakes (gr. II) and tenaciously wore down his rival to win by a head over a muddy, sealed track.
With Prime Attraction drawn inside for the Clark, I think Leofric will have every opportunity to work out another ideal trip stalking the pace before challenging in the homestretch, and if he can get the jump on the late-running Seeking the Soul, he might get brave in the final furlong and post a mild upset.
So my strategy will be to key Seeking the Soul in the exacta and trifecta, playing him primarily on top while covering for the possibility that Leofric or Prime Attraction could spring an upset on the front end. Underneath, I’ll definitely want to use #6 Bravazo, an infrequent winner but a four-time Grade 1-placed colt who came home third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
$4 exacta: 3 with 1,5 ($8) $3 exacta: 1,5 with 3 ($6) $2 trifecta: 3 with 1,5,6 with 1,5,6 ($12) $1 trifecta: 1,5 with 3 with 1,5,6 ($4)