Favored Sir Cherokee, passed in the stretch by Freefourinternet, responded with a determined rally to inch away to a three-quarters of a length victory in Saturday's night's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap at Sam Houston Race Park.
Owned and bred by Ken Jones of Domino Stud of Lexington. Ky., the 4-year-old son of Cherokee Run was sent off as the 7-5 choice in a field of eight. Ridden by Terry Thompson and carrying 118 pounds, the bay colt covered the 1 1/8-mile Maxxam distance in 1:51 3/5 on a track rated "good." Freefourinternet, the 119-pound high weight who was the second choice of the public at 5-2, was second with Robby Albarado in the irons, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Dusty Spike and Luis Quinonez.
Four wide into the first turn, Sir Cherokee edged past early pacesetter Parrott Bay to get the lead on the backstretch, going :48 2/5 for the opening half-mile. Sir Cherokee continued to lead under pressure from Parrott Bay before being overtaken by Freefourinternet, who was unhurried early, in the stretch. Freefourinternet had control, but was unable to sustain his bid against a determined Sir Cherokee.
"He ran a great race," Thompson said. "I kept him a little closer to the pace feeling that the fractions would be pretty slow. That is not usually his style but it worked tonight. He was fresh and broke out of the gate running. Hopefully in 2004 he will be our sleeper horse and he will turn some heads."
The winner of the 2003 Arkansas Derby (gr. II), Sir Cherokee was out of action since suffering an ankle injury preparing for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He returned with an allowance win Nov. 27.
"We are tickled to death," said winning trainer Michael Tomlinson. "We were concerned about the pace, but knew that he could lay a little closer after studying this race. Sometimes the horse is smarter than the trainer. Scratching him out of the Kentucky Derby was heartbreaking, but he has recovered. Our next stop will be the New Orleans Handicap."
Sir Cherokee paid $4.80, $2.40 and $2.40. Freefourinternet returned $2.80 and $3. Dusty Spike's show was $5.40.