11/27/2017 4:00PM

Sparkman: Perfect Soul scores with Seeking the Soul

Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Seeking the Soul (center) wins the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

It is easy to pinpoint the pivotal stallion who keyed the resurgence of European Thoroughbred breeding to the pinnacle of global prestige and quality after American-breds had dominated the international racing scene for 30 years. In fact, it is easy to pinpoint one particular race that foretold much of what was to come in Europe around the turn of the 21st century.

That race was the 1984 French Derby equivalent, the Prix du Jockey Club. Darshaan, Sadler’s Wells, and Rainbow Quest battled the length of the homestretch, pulling well clear of the remainder, with Darshaan forging a length clear in the final yards to win from Sadler’s Wells with Rainbow Quest a half-length third. All three became leading sires, but it was Sadler’s Wells who led the English sire list a record 14 times and sired the world’s greatest contemporary sire Galileo, who will lead the English list for the ninth time in 10 years in 2017.

Sadler’s Wells has been less influential in North America, though his 1991 champion Irish 2-year-old El Prado led the American sire list in 2002, and El Prado’s sons Kitten’s Joy and Medaglia d’Oro now rank among America’s best sires. Sadler’s Wells’s Canadian champion grass horse Perfect Soul has been less successful, but he occasionally comes up with a top horse like his son Seeking the Soul, who scored a Grade 1 victory in the Clark Handicap on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Bred in Ireland by Charles Fipke out of the Secretariat mare Ball Chairman, Perfect Soul did not race until age 4 in 2002, but showed right away that he was worth the wait, winning his first three starts for the great Canadian trainer Roger Attfield. Perfect Soul was beaten only a half-length in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Niagara Breeders’ Cup Handicap in his fourth start, but really came into his own at 5 and 6 over shorter distances. He showed a particular affinity for Keeneland’s turf course, winning the Grade 1 Keeneland Turf Mile at the 2003 fall meeting and following up with a victory in the Grade 2 Maker’s Mark Mile in spring 2004.

:: Get Cyber Monday discounts on PPs, digital subscriptions, and more!

Retired to Darby Dan Farm in 2005, Perfect Soul has been well-supported by his owner-breeder but has made little headway with other breeders, plagued both by the late start to his racing career and the prevalent prejudice against grass horses. His second-crop daughter Perfect Shirl, bred and raced by Fipke out of Grade 1 winner Lady Shirl, by That’s a Nice, won only 4 of her 16 starts, but one of those wins was an upset victory in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Seeking the Soul, who also is bred and raced by Fipke, is Perfect Soul’s second Grade 1 winner but only his 10th stakes winner from 472 foals age 3 and up. He is the second foal out of Seeking the Title, by Seeking the Gold, another high-class Fipke homebred. Fipke purchased Seeking the Title’s dam, Title Seeker, by Monarchos, for $1.7 million, with R.J. Bennett as agent, at the 2006 Keeneland November sale, in foal to Seeking the Gold.

Although Title Seeker was unraced, the reason for her high price tag was readily evident, since she was the first daughter of undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign to be sold at public auction. Personal Ensign had already produced Grade 1 winners My Flag, by Easy Goer; Miner’s Mark, by Mr. Prospector; and Traditionally, by Mr. Prospector; and My Flag’s daughter Storm Flag Flying, by Storm Cat, had earned 2002 champion 2-year-old filly honors.

Pedigrees do not get much better, and her in utero foal, Seeking the Title, validated it by winning the 2010 Grade 3 Iowa Oaks, running second in the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks, and third in the Grade 1 Gazelle. Seeking the Title’s half-brother by Perfect Soul, Perfect Title, placed in the Laurel Turf Cup and Grade 3 River City Handicap.

Seeking the Title’s first foal, Seekingtheperfect, by Perfect Soul, is a winner, but she has since produced only one more live foal, the unraced 2-year-old Perfect Soul colt Perfect Seeker.

Seeking the Soul was unraced at 2, but placed in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones and the Jefferson Cup last year at 3. Third in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic earlier this year, the Clark, in which he set a track record of 1:41.36 for 1 1/16 miles, was his fifth win in 17 starts, pushing his earnings to $551,162.