Sharon Alesia, Mike Burns and Ciaglia Racing's Cheekaboo came out on top of a blanket finish in Sunday evening's Grade 2 Honeymoon Stakes at Santa Anita. Off at odds of 23-1, the sophomore daughter of Unusual Heat stormed up between horses to put her head in front at the wire, covering nine furlongs on the firm turf course in 1:46.86 for trainer Peter Eurton. This is Cheekaboo's first graded stakes victory, and also the last turf race of the meet as Santa Anita prepares to renovate the course for the Breeders' Cup in the fall.
“Watching the race, it looked like we could be third, then second and then we had a chance to win,” said part-owner Joe Ciaglia. “This is the last race on this turf course and I said 'If she wins, I'm gonna go out there and take a piece of grass off the course and plant it in my backyard. This is just a great Father's Day gift, it's really special.”
Showing a significantly different style than the one he'd used aboard Songbird on Saturday, veteran reinsman Mike Smith allowed Cheekaboo to settle near the rear of the field in the early going. Gone to Bali set suicidal fractions while loose on the front end, while Cheekaboo was able to tuck in and save all the ground along the inner rail.. Gone to Bali covered the early fractions in :22.72 and :45.92 while two lengths in front of the slight favorite Stays in Vegas. Gone to Bali eased up a bit in the third quarter, covering three-quarters in 1:09.96, but was unable to maintain her lead turning for home. On the final turn, Cheekaboo was shuffled back to dead last along the rail, while only about six lengths off the leaders.
“I followed Pete [Eurton]'s instructions, almost to a 'T,'” said Smith. “I saved all the ground that I could and I cut every corner and he told me to 'go for broke' and to see if we could get lucky, get through, or in between. He said I should ride it that way, so I did. I have to give him the credit.”
Stays in Vegas took over at the top of the stretch, jumping out to a two-length lead with three-sixteenths of a mile to run. Cheekaboo got a bit lucky as all the fillies around her carried wide on the turn, leaving her ample room to make a race of it up the inside. Smith angled her out into the two-path to get around Stays in Vegas, with two more fillies on her outside. Four fillies hit the line together, but it was the longshot Cheekaboo who got her head down to win the race. Be Mine, three-wide at the wire, finished second, while Stays in Vegas, along the rail, finished third. Decked Out was the widest of the four, and finished fourth just a neck behind the winner.
“Wasn't that awesome? I don't know what it looked like, but it was fun as hell to ride,” exclaimed Smith. “I kind of feel like, 'ok, now people can see I can ride a little bit. I can do more than just hang on to Songbird.' I knew I got up past the wire, but I was worried about at the wire. I was so busy, down riding but I knew I was in front when I stood up. I just didn't know if I got it right on the wire.”
Bred in California by Madeline Auerbach, Richard Rosenberg and Barry Abrams, Cheekaboo was a $55,000 yearling purchase at the Barretts Equine Limited October Sale. She captured her first listed stakes two starts back at Golden Gate Fields, then ran into a monster in the Cal-bred Melair Stakes, won by Enola Gray, where Cheekaboo finished third. The Honeymoon victory brings her career record to 3-2-2 from eight starts, with earnings of nearly $280,000.
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