Steve Landers' Leofric proved dead game in Friday's Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Off as the 3-1 third choice, the 5-year-old son of Candy Ride rode the rail around the backstretch, angled out in the turn and battled down the stretch to finish a head in front of 2-1 Bravazo on the wire. Ridden by Florent Geroux for trainer Brad Cox, Leofric completed nine furlongs over the fast main track in 1:48.59. The 3-2 favorite Seeking the Soul finished third.
Leofric broke sharply near the center of the eight-horse field, and was alongside Prime Attraction crossing under the wire for the first time. The Loooch Racing duo of Storm Advisory and Sightforsoreeyes rushed up on the outside to press the pace, and Geroux took a slight hold on Leofric to drop back against the rail in fourth position, saving ground around the clubhouse turn.
Prime Attraction took a measured one-length advantage down the backstretch, leading through fractions of :23.56 and :47.58. He was chased by the three-wide Sightforsoreeyes and Storm Advisory, while Leofric kept within three lengths along the inside. Bravazo tracked the pace another two lengths back, while Seeking the Soul followed from sixth.
Rounding the far turn, Bravazo went four-wide while Leofric found a seam just outside Prime Attraction. Seeking the Soul wasn't far behind, splitting rivals to range into contention at the head of the lane.
Leofric grabbed the lead, and was immediately challenged by Bravazo. Prime Attraction refused to give way at the rail, and Seeking the Soul struggled to find racing room to that one's outside.
Bravazo tried hard, but was unable to pass Leofric in the stretch. Leofric hit the wire a head in front of Bravazo, while Prime Attraction gave way in the final eighth of a mile, fading to finish fourth behind Seeking the Soul.
“We had a great trip in the pocket the entire way around,” said Geroux. “That made the difference. This is a really nice horse. He's had some great preparation by Brad (Cox) and his team before this race. He fought Bravazo the whole way until the wire. I'm so proud of his effort. He had a really tough beat in the Oaklawn Handicap and then got hurt and took some time off. He had a great summer of preparation for this start.”
Bred in Kentucky by Peter Blum Thoroughbreds, Leofric was a $330,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale. He made three starts as a sophomore, never finding the winner's circle, and bloodstock agent Liz Crow bought him for $100,000 at the 2016 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Since that purchase, Leofric has never finished worse than third and has continued to improve thoroughout his 5-year-old season.
The horse's first graded stakes win came in August in the G3 West Virginia Governor's Stakes, followed by a third-place finish in the G1 Woodward. Two starts later he won the G2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland. The Clark is Leofric's first G1 win, and improves his overall record to 8-1-3 from 14 starts, with earnings of nearly $950,000.
Leofric is Cox's second Grade 1 winner, and his Clark victory adds to Monomoy Girl's five G1 wins this season to bring the trainer's total to six G1's in 2018. Though Cox said Leofric would not target the G1 Pegasus World Cup at the end of January, Bravazo and Seeking the Soul may head to Gulfstream for that race.
“Florent (Geroux) did a great job,” said Cox. “He ran really well after running most of the summer and not missing a beat. He ran hard in the Fayette and I was a little concerned he may be coming back a bit too quick. He had two really nice breezes over the track and came into today's race ready to go. Mr. Landers has been very patient with this horse. We'll maybe look at the Oaklawn Handicap or something like that down the road. We'll see how he comes out of things. I'm really proud of his effort. He's really turned the corner over the summer and become a top-quality horse.”
“I'm so proud of his effort,” jockey Joel Rosario said of Bravazo. “He ran really hard today. We had a great trip just off of the pace and I tipped him towards the outside around the three-eighths pole and he started to pick off horses. He tried the entire way down the lane and we almost got the job done.”
As for Seeking the Soul, trainer Dallas Stewart said: “Johnny (Velazquez) said he just ran kind of even around there – just a bummer.”
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