By Mike Farrell
Seeking the Soul and Bravazo are two of the sentimental favorites set to line up Friday in the $600,000 Clark Stakes (G2).
Both horses will have solid rooting sections in the final major older horse stakes of the year at Churchill Downs.
This is a game where your head should overrule your heart when opening the wallet, making Tom’s d’Etat the play in the “Black Friday” feature.
Not that Seeking the Soul or Bravazo aren’t capable of winning this race. However, situations and circumstances appear to compromise their chances.
Seeking the Soul returns to his favorite track with a solid “home field” advantage. The gallant 6-year-old warrior for trainer Dallas Stewart captured the Stephen Foster (G2) here back in June. After that, Stewart shipped Seeking the Soul to California for a largely fruitless three-race campaign that culminated in a no-factor sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
For Stewart, the return to Kentucky is hopefully the tonic to revive Seeking the Soul.
“We’re back at Churchill where we know he likes to win.” Stewart said.
In 12 races here, Seeking the Soul has compiled a record of 4-2-4 and over $1 million in earnings, including the 2017 Clark.
Seeking the Soul was third in last year’s Clark following a solid second place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
This time, he comes into the Clark following a trio of underwhelming efforts, including a seventh-place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the Pacific Classic (G1).
His backers will need a dramatic return to form to cash their wagers.
As for Bravazo, he faces a tall order following a lengthy layoff.
This is will be his first start since finishing fourth in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) in January.
The sentimental component here is his trainer, the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, who has been battling health issues.
The game is always richer when “The Coach” has a major contender in a top stakes race.
One can argue that Bravazo has some unfinished business in the Clark from last year when he suffered a crushing defeat by only a neck.
The inactivity since January makes him vulnerable, as opposed to Tom’s d’Etat who is fine form as the “now horse” following a smashing win in the Fayette Stakes (G2), the closing day feature at Keeneland.
The 6-year-old, patiently developed by Al Stall, Jr., has two wins in his last three outings and looks poised to capture his first Grade 1.
“He definitely deserves a Grade 1,” Stall said. “The Clark obviously sets up perfectly from the Fayette and will be a great next spot for this horse.”
Draft Pick, Mocito Rojo, Major Cabbie, Snapper Sinclair, Fact Finding, Mr. Buff, Owendale, Mr Freeze and Pioneer Spirit complete the field.
The Clark, along with the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Oaks (G1), are the only stakes to have run continuously since the track opened in 1875.
This is the first year the Clark is not contested as a handicap. Every one carries 121 pounds, except for Tom’s d’Etat and Seeking the Soul at 123 and Owendale at 118 as the only 3-year-old in the field.
The Clark will be run under the lights as the 11th of 12 races on the card that starts at 1 p.m. ET.
The supporting feature is the $300,000 Mrs Revere (G2) for 3-year-old turf fillies at 1 1-16 miles.
As with most filly grass races, the discussion begins and ends with Chad Brown who sends out a pair of last-out stakes winners: Nay Lady Nay (Parx Fall Oaks) and New and Improved (Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont Park).
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.