Early-season Kentucky Derby preps often have little impact, with top contenders typically waiting for bigger races down the road, but this year’s Sham (G3) appears different. Gormley and American Anthem put on a show that has observers looking forward to more.
Gormley brought a touch of class to the one-mile event at Santa Anita, posting a three-length score in last fall’s FrontRunner (G1), the same race American Pharoah and Nyquist captured en route to Kentucky Derby glory. Conditioned by Kentucky Derby winner John Shirreffs, the Malibu Moon colt sought to rebound from a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
American Anthem was held in high regard prior to his debut and did not disappoint when making it to the races in early December, rallying to capture a salty maiden at Del Mar. He was stepping up to face an accomplished rival in the second start but the public still placed their faith in the Bodemeister colt, betting him down as the even-money favorite for four-time Kentucky Derby victor Bob Baffert.
Gormley broke on top but conceded the early advantage to American Anthem, who sped forward from his rail post to show the way into the first turn with Mike Smith. Gormley settled into a tracking second under Victor Espinoza, a length back after the opening quarter-mile, but only a head separated the duo by the time they reached the far turn.
It turned out to be a terrific stretch duel between talented sophomores.
Gormley had momentum leaving the far turn, spurting to a short lead in upper stretch but American Anthem wasn’t finished, gamely battling back to even terms in the final furlong. Gormley narrowly got the upper hand late, prevailing by a short head on the wire and the 13-length gap back to third illustrated the difference between the top two and the rest of the competition.
The top two received a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating, enhancing their Kentucky Derby credentials in a fast race. Only Classic Empire, the presumptive 2-year-old champion and early Kentucky Derby favorite, has earned a better number in a qualifying race so far, registering a 108 winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Sham was contested over a wet track but Gormley and American Anthem look like serious prospects regardless of track condition. Both figure to relish added ground in upcoming engagements.
Malibu Moon is the sire of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Gormley hails from a mare by the Storm Cat stallion Bernstein. His classy female family has plenty of stamina influences and Gormley possesses good tactical speed, leading wire to wire in the FrontRunner. With an encouraging start to 2017, the bay is eligible to keep improving for Shirreffs.
American Anthem is just getting started. The up-and-comer is from the first crop of Bodemeister, runner-up in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and American Anthem netted a respectable 94 BRIS Speed rating when making his debut at 6-furlongs. The $435,000 2-year-old in training purchase displayed the improvement one likes to see from a Speed-figure perspective in his two-turn bow and appears built for the longer distances. He’s out of the A.P. Indy mare Indy’s Windy, a half-sister to 1998 champion 3-year-old filly Banshee Breeze, winner of the 1 ½-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and 1 ¼-mile Alabama (G1).
Gormley and American Anthem may continue to delight audiences this spring.
Other races of interest
Sonic Mule made it two straight one-turn stakes victories at Gulfstream Park, holding on by a head in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man on January 7. The Distorted Humor colt has really come on since recording a close second in his turf debut, the October 1 Armed Forces, winning three straight on the main track for Todd Pletcher.
He registered a 103 BRIS Speed rating posting a convincing win in the 6-furlong Buffalo Trace on December 10 and followed with a 94 in the Mucho Macho Man. Don’t know how far he wants to go – the Distorted Humor colt hails from the female family of multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Zensational – but Sonic Mule is doing well presently.
Malagacy caught the eye making his debut over a sloppy Gulfstream track on January 4, striding away to a 15-length wire-to-wire victory. It was a 5 ½-furlong race and Malagacy’s future could be in shorter events, but it’s interesting to note the Shackleford colt counts Pleasant Colony as his second damsire. The Pletcher trainee received a 104 BRIS Speed rating.
Monday’s Smarty Jones (G3) at Oaklawn Park is the lone scoring race this weekend in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
D. Wayne Lukas, who is tied with Baffert for second all-time by Kentucky Derby wins, has a top contender in Warrior’s Club. The Hall of Fame trainer used the one-mile race as a launching pad in 2013 for Will Take Charge, who sprung a 12-1 upset before eventually winning champion 3-year-old honors.
Warrior’s Club captured the restricted Spendthrift Stallion Stakes two starts back and exits a respectable third to McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- CLASSIC EMPIRE: BC Juvenile winner enters 2017 as clear favorite
- MCCRAKEN: Ky Jockey Club hero has rallied to win all three starts going away
- MASTERY: Improved to 3-for-3 with Los Alamitos Futurity romp
- AMERICAN ANTHEM: Love the potential as he could be just scratching the surface in Sham
- GORMLEY: Proved he’s one to fear out west in Sham rebound
- MO TOWN: Remsen winner gives Uncle Mo a chance for second straight Ky Derby
- EL AREEB: Jumped into the mix with impressive Jerome tally
- PRACTICAL JOKE: Champagne and Hopeful winner wound up a clear third in BC Juvenile
- IRISH WAR CRY: Curlin colt is 2-for-2 for Motion, heading to points’ races next
- NO DOZING: Remsen runner-up is one to watch for Delacour
- GUNNEVERA: Delta Jackpot winner packs a strong late punch
- BATTALION RUNNER: Runaway Gulfstream maiden winner looks like a live prospect for Pletcher
- LOOKIN AT LEE: After picking up several minor awards, hard-trying colt will try to show more at age 3
- KLIMT: New trainer Sherman considering Dubai route for juvenile Grade 1 winner
- FACT FINDING: Unbeaten colt ready to make two-turn and graded stakes debut
- WILD SHOT: Third in Breeders’ Futurity, he concluded 2016 with Ky Jockey Club runner-up
- UNTRAPPED: Scintillating Churchill maiden winner appears set to make stakes bow in Jan. 21 Lecomte
- BEACH BUM: Loved his potential following debut maiden win but concerned by sporadic worktab
- GOOD SAMARITAN: Trainer Bill Mott is considering trying the BC Juvenile Turf third-placer on dirt
- J BOYS ECHO: Romans is excited about Keeneland maiden winner