May 20, 2019

Marley’s Freedom asserts class in Santa Monica

Marley's Freedom and jockey Drayden Van Dyke win the Santa Monica Stakes (G2) on February 16, 2019, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Cicero Farms’ Marley’s Freedom, the 3-5 favorite in Saturday’s $200,000 Santa Monica (G2), performed up to her status by rolling past defending champion Selcourt at Santa Anita. The result was a neat reversal of last year’s exacta, when Selcourt was at her peak, and before Marley’s Freedom reached hers.

The small field was reduced to five following the withdrawals of Dream Tree, the winner’s stablemate from the Bob Baffert barn, and Amuse, who was entered in Monday’s 7TH race. The remaining quintet had plenty of intrigue, with Grade 1 Paradise Woods resurfacing for new trainer John Shirreffs, and Manitoba’s ambassador, Escape Clause, cutting back in trip off her La Canada (G3) romp. But neither could make a dent on the outcome.

Selcourt blasted from the gate and led through fractions of :22.48 and :45.07 on a “good” track. Paradise Woods dragged her rider forward to chase, only to give way and fade to last.

On the far turn, Marley’s Freedom had to pick it up to prevent Selcourt from blowing the race open, and she accosted the leader in the stretch at the six-furlong mark in 1:09.77. Readily pulling away for jockey Drayden Van Dyke, Marley’s Freedom finished seven furlongs in 1:22.34.

“Bob (Baffert) told me to be sure to warm her up real good and to get her running away from there,” Van Dyke said. “She did and we had a good tactical spot. I was just sitting on her, but I had to get after Selcourt a little early because it looked like she was running pretty easy on the lead.”

Selcourt’s rider, Joe Talamo, paid tribute to her effort and to the winner.

“She flew out of there, she broke like a shot today and we got to set our own fractions,” Talamo said. “She was very relaxed and hat’s off to the winner. Man, Marley’s Freedom has been able to string some really nice races together. I was really proud of my mare today though. Even when Marley’s Freedom came to her, she was fighting. I thought we were going to steal it there for a second at the top of the lane.”

Mopotism, the 20-1 longest shot on the board, stayed on to take third. Escape Clause beat just Paradise Woods home.

Marley’s Freedom was completing a cross-country graded double for sire Blame, following the victory of Blamed in Gulfstream Park’s Royal Delta (G3). The Santa Monica pushed her closer to millionaire status, for her bankroll now stands at $935,935 from a record of 15-8-2-0. Marley’s Freedom made her first stakes attempt for trainer Bob Hess Jr., notably finishing fourth in the 2017 La Brea (G1), and left his barn on a high note with a sharp allowance win last spring.

Continuing her progress for Baffert, Marley’s Freedom compiled a hat trick in the Desert Stormer (G3), Great Lady M (G2), and Ballerina (G1). She ranked as the 4-5 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), but came up a half-length short in fourth after a wide trip. It presumably cost her an Eclipse Award, since the statuette went to Breeders’ Cup upsetter Shamrock Rose. Marley’s Freedom bounced right back with a gritty victory in the December 1 Go for Wand (G3) at Aqueduct, her first try at a mile albeit one turn, and made it two straight here.

Owners Ron and Barbara Perry of Cicero Farms shared their enthusiasm.

“She (Marley’s Freedom) is amazing,” Barbara said. “She just is a gift from God, she’s so sweet and so much fun to be around and she just lays it down every time she runs.”

“We call what Marley does – she doesn’t stalk, she hunts,” Ron said. “She was hunting Selcourt all the way down the backside. Drayden had an intent to sit on her and not let her get away and that’s what he did. He ran a perfect race, she ran a perfect race.”

Ron commented on his apparel, a dress shirt topping a Bob Marley T-shirt.

“My T-shirt is indeed a tradition any time she runs. Two years ago I traded a gentleman in a bar in Oakland for a dress shirt.”

“Rick physically runs while she races,” Barbara said, “and I cheer.”

“Yes,” Ron chimed in. “I drift down to about the eighth pole and I help her make her run down the lane. The thanks need to go to Bob, and Jimmy, and Pasquale and the entire team. They do an amazing job and they brought her to a different level. She’s a great horse and in their hands she’s almost perfect.”

“It all starts with the team from the very beginning and the farm even,” Barbara added. “Everybody has worked together and Bob has just been absolutely amazing with (her). She is just a completely different horse with him. She’s so special and so sweet. She loves her job but she’s such a love in the barn as well.”

The May 10 foal, a bargain $35,000 Keeneland September yearling, was bred by Jack Swain III in Kentucky. Out of the winning Formal Gold mare Relaxing Green, Marley’s Freedom is a half-sister to stakes winner Noble Charlotte and stakes-placed Airship. Another half-sibling, Indian Carlie, is herself the dam of multiple stakes scorer Noble Commander.