Cheekaboo prevails in Honeymoon blanket finish

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Jen Caldwell

June 20th, 2016

It came right down to the wire in the $201,380 Honeymoon Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on Sunday, and Cheekaboo played peekaboo between rivals to score by a head in the 1 1/8-mile grass contest.

Gone to Bali set the early pace of :22.72, :45.92 and 1:09.96 while tracked by Where’s the D and Stays in Vegas. Cheekaboo and jockey Mike Smith were saving ground near the rear of the nine-filly field.

Stays in Vegas, the 3-1 favorite, took command in the lane but Be Mine was hot on her hooves. Cheekaboo rallied fast to split rivals while at the same time Decked Out was coming from last with a furious late run. The quartet hit the wire together, but Cheekaboo managed to stick her head in front at just the right moment to stop the clock in 1:46.86 on the firm going.

Sent off the 23-1 second longest shot on the board, the Peter Eurton-trianed Cheekaboo returned $49.60 to her faithful backers. Be Mine had her nose in front of Stays in Vegas on the line, while Decked Out finished another neck back in fourth to complete the blanket finish.

Lady Valeur, How Unusual, Gone to Bali, Jeremy’s Legacy and Where’s the D followed in that order.

Cheekaboo is now 3-2-2 from eight career starts and has banked $279,680 lifetime. The Unusual Heat filly was trying graded rivals for the first time in the Honeymoon following three prior stakes races. She finished third when making her black-type debut in the California Cup Oaks on January 30, then captured the Campanile Stakes on May 1 two back.

Campaigned by Joe Ciaglia’s Ciaglia Racing LLC, Sharon Alesia and Mike Burns, the chestnut lass entered the Honeymoon off a third in the main-track Melair Stakes on May 28.

Bred in California by Madeline Auerbach, Richard Rosenberg and Barry Abrahms, Cheekaboo was purchased for $55,000 as a Barretts October yearling. She is out of the Souvenir Copy mare Sandy Cheeks and comes from the same female family as Grade 1 winners Bit of Whimsy, Miss Josh and Royal Mountain Inn.

Cheekaboo photos courtesy of Benoit Photos


Mike Smith, jockey Cheekaboo, winner: “Wasn’t that awesome? I don’t know what it looked like, but it was fun as hell to ride. 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.

“I followed Pete’s instructions, almost to a ‘T.’ 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.

“I thought I had a shot to run well. At the sixteenth-pole I thought, ‘If I can squeeze in between these two, I think I can get it.’ Then I wasn’t sure if I got it until I saw ol’ Gilligan (Quick Official for Stewards) over on the backside. He’s an eagle eye and he tells you right away. He told me I got it and I was excited.”

Peter Eurton, trainer Cheekaboo, winner: “It was Joe’s push to run her in here. I have to give a lot of credit to Larry Zap for finding her. This distance was to her advantage because she seems to run all day.”

Joe Ciaglia, co-owner Cheekaboo, winner: “Watching the race, it looked like we could be third, then second and then we had a chance to win! 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.

Flavien Prat, jockey Be Mine, second: “It’s tough to get beat by a head, but I couldn’t change anything. When she changed leads, she really took off and finished great.”

Alex Solis, jockey Stays in Vegas, third: “She ran hard, I can’t complain. She gave her best to the end. Just didn’t get the win today.”