As usual, the omens of horse racing were present at Churchill Downs in the 143rd running of the Clark Handicap. The grade 1 half million dollar race gives me another chance to stand on my Thoroughbred racing soap box.
For about 17 years now I have been saying this is the perfect sport for the 21st century. Yes, the gaming, fashion, competitiveness, excitement, and quick developing results are all huge reasons to love a trip to the track. But a quick look into what the sport can tell you about life can be even bigger.
Contested as the centerpiece of the Fall Racing Meet for the same number of years as the Kentucky Derby, the Clark has long been a target for some of the top runners in the game. Run on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the mile and an eighth dance over the Downs dirt has provided many fond memories and a few life lessons. So here is where the omens come in.
Of course we know the world has some growing issues right now. Division is part of this country now and that will probably not change, at least in my lifetime. The philosophical part of me says most people are inherently good, or at least that is the way I want it to be. No matter what your political, religious, or college athletic beliefs are, there is a basic common ground for those with a good heart. Here is where the omens of the sport step up.
It’s the day after Thanksgiving and despite some of the turmoil, all Americans have many reasons to be thankful. As the horses were headed to post for the Clark something slapped me in the face. The field was loaded with quality and you could make a case for about any of the 9 entrants. The Player was my original pick for many substantial reasons and I was still going to be riding with him for sure. But as I soaked up some of the sun at one of the most iconic sporting venues in the world and thought about how lucky I am it hit me. Seeking The Soul is a nicely bred four-year old trained by Dallas Stewart. Stewart is a guy that just won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Forever Unbridled) and has a way of getting his runners ready at the right time. But more importantly, what would be the best thing EVERYONE could do on this weekend of giving thanks? Seek your soul and understand there are lots of other good people out there too, we just have to stick together.
So, when you look at the numbers, you see The Soul has only won 4 times in 16 lifetime starts but has finished in the top three 12 times. Hmmmm! Obviously Stewart has stuck by his horse and decided the time was right to try and get his first graded stakes win. He had perhaps found a new formula as his runner was coming in off a huge win at Keeneland on October 21, so maybe Mr. Stewart would be rewarded for his faith. Forgetting the numbers and thinking about the philosophical aspect, I knew he was well worth a ticket.
Under the excellent guidance of jockey John Velazquez, Seeking The Soul ran a very strong race and powered home first at odds of 7 to 1. Striking the lead with an inside out move with about a quarter mile left to run, the Charles Fipke owned colt found himself on a lead he would not relinquish.
“It was a great effort and a great honor to win the Clark,” says Stewart. “He doesn’t really like the whip so I have told his riders to not use it and he has responded with these last two races. I may have been a little too aggressive with him early in his career but I always knew he was this caliber horse.”
So there you go. Seeking The Soul does not need the whip to make it happen. Could this country learn from a dedicated team in the Thoroughbred game? The omens of horse racing wins again!