When the Maryland Jockey Club carded the inaugural Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness Stakes card, it was prophetic that trainer Michael Matz would enter Chelokee.
After all, Matz had saddled Barbaro to win the 2006 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and then watched in horror as the colt sustained a catastrophic injury in his right hind leg. The colt eventually died earlier this year due to the effects of laminitis to his left hind leg.
The Preakness crowd also picked up on the Matz-Barbaro connection and sent Chelokee off at 3-10 odds in the five-horse field (after a pair of scratches). The Cherokee Run colt did not disappoint, taking over under jockey Ramon Dominguez rounding the second turn and drawing off to a widening 4 3/4-length margin over Silver Express.
“Right now, I’m elated. I couldn’t be happier. I have a promising horse. To win the first Barbaro Stakes, it’s a great feeling,” said Matz, who had considered running the late-developing colt in the Preakness (gr. I) before opting for the Barbaro.
“I’m glad we decided to run in the race. He hadn’t run in a while,” he added. “He had a couple of little problems. This should straighten him up a little bit and make him all the better for it.”
Matz said it was too early to say whether Chelokee would run in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in three weeks.
Roy and Gretchen Jackson, the owners of Barbaro, made the winner’s circle presentation to Matz after the running of the race named to honor their Derby winner, who brought an undefeated record into last year’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“Michael was tearing up,” Gretchen Jackson said. “We’ve got such a wonderful relationship with him that I felt it just underlines it all: You deserve it; you’re it.”
Attending the running of the Barbaro turned out to be an uplifting experience for the Jacksons.
“Surprisingly enough, I wasn’t as sad as a lot of people thought that I might be. I’ve moved on from that spot and I tell myself that I’ve got to remember Barbaro as a great big strong racehorse and what happened here happened last year,” Gretchen Jackson said. “We’ve moved on from that place. However seeing the NBC special makes me sad to see what could have been and what might have been. I just can’t let myself go there very often. I’ve got to move on.”
Stonehouse took the lead at the start while being pursued by Chelokee, with early fractions of :23.60 and :46.80. As the field rounded the turn into the stretch, Chelokee took over, with six furlongs completed in 1:10.85. Chelokee, who finished third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) in his previous start, stopped the timer in 1:43.44 for 1 1/16 miles.
As the prohibitive favorite, Chelokee was worth $2.60, $2.10, and $2.10. Silver Express, ridden by Edgar Prado, held on for second, paying $3.40 and $2.40, and Zephyr Cat third, returning $2.40 with Luis Garcia aboard. Stonehouse and Dancin Buddha followed. Vow to Greatness and Soaring By scratched.
The victory was the third in seven starts for the dark bay Chelokee, who is owned by Centennial Farms. Bred in Kentucky by Gulf Coast Farms Bloodstock, Chelokee broke his maiden impressively in his second career start. He then won an allowance at Gulfstream Park before his Florida Derby effort. His earnings stand at $221,900.
“We’re very, very grateful that it turned out the way it did,” Roy Jackson said. “At Delaware Park on Wednesday, we told Ramon and Michael that that we wanted it to work out this way and it did. We’re ecstatic that the first trophy goes to Centennial Farms and Michael.