Jerry and Ann Moss’ Gormley is officially headed to the Kentucky Derby (GI) in four weeks after posting an impressive half-length, off-the-pace victory in Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI). The bay son of Malibu Moon, who is trained by John Shirreffs, was once again ridden to victory by jockey Victor Espinoza and the pair completed the nine-furlong test in a fairly pedestrian 1:51.16, the slowest time for Southern California’s last major prep for the Run for the Roses since Tarrang went in 1:51 in 1956.
The entire field of 13 broke well from the gate for the nine-furlong test and Gormley’s stablemate, Royal Mo, sped toward the front from the far outside under Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, and was joined to his inside by Battle of Midway and American Anthem in between. The trio battled on the front end through early splits of :22.66, :46.55 and 1:10.92 for the first three-quarters of a mile with the winner content to sit off the pace in fourth, a couple lengths off the lead and saving ground along the rail. As the frontrunners continued to clash on the front end around the far bend, Espinoza asked Gormley for run and swung him wide to avoid his tiring rivals at the head of the lane.
In full flight to the wire down the middle of the track, Gormley wore down a tiring American Anthem first, then Royal Mo and soon after Battle of Midway posted a mile in 1:37.55, Gormley ran him down too and continued on to the wire to claim the win.
Gormley earned $600,000 for his most recent victory to bring his career earnings to $920,000 and his career line now reads 6-4-0-0. He won last year’s Frontrunner Stakes (GI) and the Sham Stakes (GIII) in early January and was fourth in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) a month ago in his last out.
“Today the big difference is that he was ready,” Espinoza said. “Something went wrong last time, he was good but not quite where I wanted. I was a little bit disappointed but it seems like today he was on his toes, on his game and I was ready for it.
“He’s really quick out of the gate and today the plan was to take him back and make him run because it seemed like there was a little bit of speed in the race. He relaxed very nice. Down the backside I started laughing to myself because I knew I was in a good position and I knew all the horses in front of me were going to stop. He showed me he’s capable of going the distance. The only problem is his size; he’s not very big, but he’s tough and that’s what I like about him. He works really hard and that’s what it takes.”
As the third choice at odds of more than 6-1, Gormley paid $14.40, $7.20 and $5. Battle of Midway was worth $7.80 and $5.40 as a 7-1 chance, while 11-1 Royal Mo returned $7.60. The exacta was worth $48 and the trifecta $507.
Reach the World, the 3-1 favored Iliad, Kimbear, Term of Art, Irish Freedom, Milton Freewater, Midnight Pleasure, So Conflated, American Anthem and Comma Sister completed the order of finish.
“I think the key was Espinoza rating Gormley and making his big move,” Shirreffs said. “This is very exciting. It’s thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it’s for the same owners as (2005 Derby winner) Giacomo. Royal Mo ran really big. If he had a better post position you wonder how he would have done. I really wasn’t paying attention to the fractions, I just saw my horse and he got behind horses including Royal Mo.
“Gormley is an evolving horse. He’s very precocious and very excitable. I just need to turn that energy into positive use. It’s a lot of growing pains with a talented horse. We’ll see how this shakes out, we’ll see how he comes out of this race in the morning and if all is well we’ll point to the Kentucky Derby.”
Gormley, who is out of the Bernstein mare Race to Urga, was bred in Kentucky by the partnership of Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estates. He is his dam’s first and only Grade 1 winner so far. According to Shirreffs, Gormley will stay in California and train for the Run for the Roses at his home base of Santa Anita and ship to Louisville as late as possible.
“We’ll check the flight schedule, but we’ll stay here as long as possible,” Shirreffs said. “The weather here is more predictable so we know what we can expect.”