BALTIMORE – Putting his heart as well as his talent on display, Gary and Mary West’s American Freedom fought off challenges from start to finish to win the $100,000 Latin American Racing Channel Sir Barton Stakes by a length Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
The 19th running of the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton for 3-year-olds was the second stakes victory of the day for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, following the $100,000 Chick Lang, also for sophomores, with Justin Squared.
Baffert, who will go for his record-tying seventh victory in the 141st Preakness Stakes (G1) with Collected, won the Sir Barton in 2015 with Fame and Power.
American Freedom ($4.60), sent off as the 6-5 favorite in a field of 10, tracked early pacesetter Fearless Dragon through a quarter-mile in 23.47 seconds before taking over the top spot after a half in 47.50.
From there, the bay Pulpit colt turned away bids from Donegal Moon to his outside approaching the lane and then Voluntario along the rail in mid-stretch for his first stakes victory in three lifetime starts. The winning time was 1:44.85 over a muddy main track.
Voluntario finished second, 1 ¼ lengths in front of late-running Dazzling Gem. Owned by Steve Landers Racing, Dazzling Gem had been under consideration for the Preakness before trainer Brad Cox opted for the Sir Barton.
LARC Sir Barton Stakes Quotes
Winning Trainer Bob Baffert (American Freedom): “Last time I think he just got away bad and they went really fast that day. I just told Florent (Geroux) to be aggressive and get him into it. I felt a lot of pressure because Gary and Mary West are really great clients and they let me run this horse back in two weeks. He’s a really good horse and I wanted to get him another race. I was so disappointed that he got beat last time. We’ve always been really high on this horse. Today it looked like he was almost done and he came back. Hopefully, he’ll have a great summer.”
Winning Jockey Florent Geroux (American Freedom): “Last time in the Pat Day Mile he bobbled a bit at the start and from there he checked along the way. Today, Bob told me to get him out nice and clean. I let the [Fearless Dragon] get out and do his thing and kept my horse comfortable. I figured I’d catch him later. When horses came at me, he responded very well and was very game all the way to the wire.”
Trainer Brad Cox (Dazzling Gem, 3rd): “It was a good effort. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get a little more, but this horse is all right. We’re still kind of figuring him out a little bit. He looked like he was in and out down the lane. Maybe I’ll put blinkers on him next time. Probably a little premature to say that, but it’s something to think about.”
(On the off track) “We really didn’t have any idea. We thought he’d like it because he gallops so well in it, but when it starts hitting them in the face, it’s a little different story. It took a little while for him to settle in.”
(On decision to skip the Preakness) “Even though he was coming at the end, it was the right move. He’s very nice. It didn’t look like he’d get anything and he ended up running on for third. It was a positive race. Very pleased with the effort, that’s what I’m pleased with. And that’s a nice horse who won. I saw him in the paddock, and he’s something to look at – a big, physical horse.”
Jockey Luis Saez (Dazzling Gem, 3rd): “I think with blinkers he’s better, because he’s running and he stops, running and stops.
“He’s learning. I moved him out to get him out of the mud, because he was a little intimidated. Then when he saw the clear, he finished strongly.”
Pimlico Race Course