The 2017 portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby got off to a thrilling start when El Areeb won in convincing fashion at Aqueduct in the Jerome on Monday. El Areeb garnered 10 points in his bid to grab a Derby gate and is tied with six others at the ten-point mark. He only trails Classic Empire with 40 points and Practical Joke with fourteen.
The $100,000 Sham Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita Park on Saturday is another 17-point Derby prep race, with 10 points to the winner, four points to the place horse, two points to the show horse and one point to the fourth-place finisher. The 18th running of the stakes named after the second best three-year-old thoroughbred in 1973 (behind Secretariat, of course) was first run in 2001 with Wild and Wise winning for trainer Bob Baffert under jockey Victor Espinoza.
Although the race was originally run at 1 1/8 miles, it was shortened to 1 1/16 miles in 2011, then moved to its present one-mile distance in 2012. The race was run on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface from 2008-2010.
With a field of seven subscribed to the 2017 Sham Stakes, Gormley (post position five) is the standout of the bunch.
Already a Grade I winner after capturing the Frontrunner at Santa Anita in October, the John Shireffs charge finished a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but seems to be the best of the lot here, as the only Grade I winner.
By Malibu Moon out of a Bernstein mare named Race to Urga, Gormley won his debut in a $60,000 maiden special weight romp at Del Mar on Sept, 4 last year. He followed his maiden victory with the win in the Frontrunner over the heavily-favored Klimt going a mile and a sixteenth on the Santa Anita dirt.
Gormley’s final work before the Sham was a five-furlong, 1:00-3/5 jaunt on the main track labeled “good” by those at Clocker’s Corner.
Espinoza has piloted Gormley in all three of the colt’s starts, and will again get the nod on Saturday.
The other contenders for the Sham Stakes (Santa Anita race 7, 3:30 pm PT) include:
1-American Anthem (Bodemeister – Indy’s Windy, by A.P. Indy)
Baffert has won the Sham a record four times and will be looking for the WinStar Farms & China Horse Club acquisition to bring him his fifth victory. Purchased by the current ownership group for $435,000 at the Ocala March 2016 two-year-olds-in-training sale, this colt brought the gavel down for $180,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Auction.
American Anthem won in his only career start — a six-furlong, $52,000 maiden special weight sprint at Del Mar in December.
This colt clocked very well in a five-furlong work (second out of 48 going that distance, in :59.4) on Dec. 21, then followed that up with a six-furlong maintenance work six days later, both at Santa Anita.
Baffert’s previous Sham winners include the inaugural win by Wild and Wise in 2001, Bob and John in 2006, Midnight Hawk in 2014 and last year’s winner Collected.
2-Term of Art (Tiznow – Miles of Style, by Storm Cat)
A graded stakes winner after capturing the Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar last out, this Doug O’Neill-trained colt took three tries to break his maiden last year, getting the job done on this same track and distance in October.
A $220,000 purchase at Keeneland September in 2015 as a yearling, Term of Art also ran in the B.C. Juvenile, finishing ninth by more than nineteen lengths as a 90-to-1 shot. He is the only other graded stakes winner in the field besides Gormley.
O’Neill has been the winning trainer in the Sham once before — when Goldencents prevailed in 2013.
Term of Art’s last published entry on the work tab was a bullet six furlongs on the Santa Anita track in 1:11.60.
3-Bird Is the Word (Birdstone – Madagascat, by Tale of the Cat)
This Birdstone colt, who has never won a race in five tries, is slated to race under a jockey that also is a maiden — not exactly the recipe for winning a graded stakes race.
Jockey Gonzalo Gabriel Ulloa Perez will be making his twelfth career start (zero wins, two places, zero shows) for a trainer that has twelve career victories. Goncalino F. Almeida saddles this also-ran.
Bird Is the Word sold for $40,000 as a yearling at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale and for the same price in the April 2016 Ocala two-year-olds-in-training sale.
He made his debut in a maiden special weight race at Del Mar last August, finishing fourth. He finished second last out in December at Del Mar in a one mile turf try.
4-Colonel Samsen (Colonel John – Blondz Away, by Skip Away)
A son of a Sham Stakes winner, Colonel Samsen raced six times as a two-year-old, making his debut at Presque Isle on August 15, finishing third while going six furlongs on that track’s quirky all-weather surface.
He broke his maiden in his fifth try, in a mile and sixteenth route on the Del Mar turf — winning by a neck. Prior to his maiden victory, he finished 10th of twelve runners in a mile turf non-graded stakes race at Santa Anita.
But Colonel Samsen followed his maiden special weight win with a victory in the $75,000 non-graded Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate on Dec. 3. The one-mile black type event was over the all-weather course. He enters the Sham on a two race win-streak.
Trained by two-time Sham winner Eoin Harty (with Colonel Samsen’s sire Colonel John in 2008 and Out of Bounds in 2012), the colt has earned $108,365 in his six career starts. His last five published works have all been over the Santa Anita dirt track, but none of them are standouts.
6-Big Hit (Super Saver – Singavictorysong, by Hard Spun)
Big Hit has improved finishing position in each of his three career races, but after breaking his maiden last out at Del Mar in a six-and-a-half furlong dirt sprint in November, he’s now looking to win back-to-back races.
Owned by Gary and Mary West, and trained by Phil d’Amato, this $360,000, 2015 Keeneland September Sale graduate is making his first start against winners in graded stakes company.
He has looked great on the work tab and may just be a price to get behind, especially in filling out exotic bets.
7-Blabimir (Tapizar – Starlight Lady, by Elusive Quality)
O’Neill’s other entry in this race is the son of the 2011 Sham Stakes winner Tapizar. Purchased by Reddam Racing at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for $115,000, Blabimir broke his maiden in his third try.
Winning at Los Alamitos on Dec. 9 — sprinting five and a half furlongs — the result was much better than his previous try at Santa Anita, where he was pulled-up in mid-stretch, but was able to leave the track under his own power.
Mario Gutierrez will again be aboard Blabimir in the Sham.
The Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on Monday, Jan. 16 and the Grade III Lecomte at the Fair Grounds are the last two Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races this month.