American Freedom comes back strong in Sir Barton Stakes

BALTIMORE -- Trainer Bob Baffert wanted to erase the memory of American Freedom's sixth-place finish in the Pat Day Mile two weeks ago as fast as possible. So, he asked owner Gary West if he could run the horse back in Saturday's $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico.

West gave his blessing, and American Freedom rewarded Baffert's faith in the horse by grinding out a 1¼-length victory over Voluntario in the Sir Barton over a muddy Pimlico main track. It was 1¼ lengths farther back to Dazzling Gem in third.

The win gave Baffert a sweep of the 3-year-old listed stakes on the Preakness card. He also won the Chick Lang with Justin Squared.

American Freedom won his debut April 9 in the slop at Santa Anita.

He was sent off as a 7-5 favorite in a 14-horse field in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on May 7. American Freedom broke slowly that day, chased the pace and faded to sixth, beaten by seven lengths by Sharp Azteca.

"I felt a lot of pressure because Gary and Mary West are really great clients," Baffert said. "I said, 'Let me run this horse back in two weeks.' I couldn't believe he got beat. I was just so disappointed."

Under Florent Geroux, American Freedom broke well in the Sir Barton. Fearless Dragon, breaking from the extreme outside in the 10-horse field, was gunned to the front out of the gate by Martin Pedroza. Entering the first turn, Geroux put American Freedom right off Fearless Dragon through a quarter in 23.47 seconds.

"I told Florent, 'Be aggressive, get him into it,'" Baffert said.

Down the backside, about 5½ furlongs from home, American Freedom took over from Fearless Dragon but had Donegal Moon to his outside.

American Freedom and Donegal Moon ran together through six furlongs in 1:12.50 and were together straightening away down the lane. With Donegal Moon still to his outside, American Freedom got a new challenge at the eighth pole from Voluntario, who was rallying along the rail under Jose Lezcano. American Freedom put away Donegal Moon near the sixteenth pole, then was able to outlast Voluntario to get the win.

American Freedom, a son of Pulpit, covered the 1-1/16 miles in 1:44.85 and returned $4.60 to win as the 7-5 favorite.

"Bob told me, 'Make sure you break nice and clean and try to put him in the race without using him like crazy,'" Geroux said. "I was able to sit second, nice and comfortable; when the horse came outside of me, my horse felt him and responded very well, and he was very game all the way to the wire."

As Baffert added, "It looked like he was almost done, and then he came back. We've always been really high on this horse. Hopefully, he has a great summer in front of him."

Baffert said American Freedom would be based at Churchill Downs for the summer, but Baffert had no immediate plans for his next start.