The King Cheek Turns Away Hozier in $100,000 Sir Barton

May 18th, 2021

1 1/16-Mile Stakes for 3-Year-Olds Opens Preakness Day Program

The King Cheek Horse

BALTIMORE, MD | May 15th, 2021 – The King Cheek, stretching out around two turns for the first time, dueled the length of the stretch with Grade 2-placed favorite Hozier before edging away approaching the wire to win the $100,000 Sir Barton by a head Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

The 23rd running of the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton for 3-year-olds led off a spectacular 14-race program featuring 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.25 million in purses headlined by the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Owned by Morris Kernan and trainer Jamie Ness’s Jagger Inc. and ridden by Jaime Rodriguez, The King Cheek ($10.40) picked up his first career stakes win and second straight victory overall despite his saddle slipping back approaching the stretch. The sophomore Laoban gelding had never raced beyond seven furlongs in his first eight starts.

The King Cheek went right to the front after breaking from Post 1 and led through splits of 24.06 and 47.67 seconds with Golden Gulley and 3-5 top choice Hozier in closest pursuit. Hozier, second behind stablemate and top Preakness contender Concert Tour in the March 13 Rebel (G2), made a run up the rail to draw even at the head of the turn and the two horses hooked up the rest of the way home. Hozier forged a short lead entering the stretch but The King Cheek continued to battle and inched clear in 1:42.81 over a fast main track.

It was 9 ½ lengths back to Romp in third, followed by Golden Gulley. Market Cap stumbled and went to his knees when the starting gate opened, dropping jockey Johan Rosado. Both horse and rider were uninjured.

Ness claimed The Big Cheek out of a sixth-place finish last September at Delaware Park and won a maiden claimer in his subsequent start. The King Cheek had finished off the board in his two previous stakes attempts, both against fellow New York-breds.

Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1919, becoming the first horse to sweep what wouldn’t become known as the Triple Crown until Gallant Fox matched the feat in 1930. The race returned to the Preakness undercard this year after not being run when the stakes schedule was adjusted and delayed to last fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

$100,000 Sir Barton Quotes  

Winning Trainer Jamie Ness (The King Cheek): “The favorite came up inside us, it looked like, uh-oh. But he re-engaged and it was a hard-fought battle right to the wire, and luckily we got in front. I always thought he was a two-turn horse. I thought about putting him on the grass today for the first time.”

“This was kind of a last-second entry. It was kind of a short field. They [the racing office] called me. I said he’s doing great. Put him in. Take a shot. He just ran 10 days ago. They called me and said ‘You got any 3-year-olds that are doing good?’ I said, “Yeah. For what?’ They said, ‘The Sir Barton,’ and I said, ‘All right, let’s go.’ I ran him back-to-back in 10 days.”

“You know what’s funny? We dropped a claim on this horse ($25,000 on Sept. 30 at Delaware Park). It was a five-way shake, and he ran terrible. I was with my owner, and I go, ‘Go lose the shake.’ And then he comes out with the slip, and I go, ‘Awww.’ And now here we are. So you just never know. I’ve claimed a lot of horses and you just never know.”

Winning Jockey Jaime Rodriguez (The King Cheek): “I was reading the form and when I saw there wasn’t much speed in the race, I told the boss, ‘If he puts us in a good position I’m just going to let him go.’ He was so comfortable on the backside and I feel like I had enough horse. He was trying to get out a little bit on the first turn but once the other horse came close to him my horse just picked up again  and from that until then he just kept battling from head to head with the other one.”

(About saddle slipping back) “I felt it happening at the 3/8s pole and I thought I was in trouble but when you are riding in the moment, you forget about everything and when you pass the wire, you think, ‘Hey, I got the job done’”

“I have won maybe six or seven stakes. I won my first stake at Finger Lakes and this is my first stake here at Pimlico to win.”

Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert (Hozier, 2nd): “He ran a very good race. [Jockey] Joel [Rosario] thought he made the right move, getting down to the inside. Give a lot of credit to the horse that won. He fought back on and passed us.”