June 23, 2024

Stevens: ‘Royal Mo reminded me a lot of Silver Charm’

Trainer John Shirreffs with Royal Mo
Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Gormley and third-place finisher Royal Mo are headed to the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 6, according to trainer John Shirreffs.

The duo earned 100 and 20 qualifying points, respectively, toward a starting berth in the Run for the Roses following their efforts in the Santa Anita Derby on Saturday, and were in good order one day after.

“They looked good this morning,” Shirreffs said. “They ran just like we had hoped and we’re happy to be going to the Derby again.”

Gormley and Royal Mo are not only both trained by Shirreffs, they are also both owned by Jerry and Ann Moss. The Mosses and Shirreffs upset the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 Giacomo, who finished fourth in that year’s Santa Anita Derby.

“It was an excellent race for him,” Shirreffs said of Royal Mo. “He was wide from a bad post position. I thought he ran super.”

Jockey Gary Stevens, who piloted Royal Mo from the far outside post 13 in the Santa Anita Derby, was full of praise for his mount as well.

“It was a tremendous effort,” Stevens said. “I usually don’t pay much attention to Trakus, but I think it said 64 feet (wide) or something, and we were going in the gate and I’m thinking, ‘My God, I’m a long ways out here.’ I was right on the crest of the crown on the track, and I’m thinking if there were 14 horses they’d be standing lopsided.

“I was just hoping I got away good and I did. If we’d have drawn down inside, I still would have had to send him, but not like I did to clear. I got over to the three path by the time we hit the (first) turn, and it takes a hell of an athlete to be able to do that.

“He’s got an unbelievable high cruising speed. We didn’t come home that fast (the last eighth in :13.61) but nobody else did, either.”

Stevens is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle – scoring in 1988 on the filly Winning Colors, in 1994 with Tabasco Cat and 1997 aboard Silver Charm – and compared Royal Mo with one of his past Derby winners.

“Royal Mo reminded me a lot of Silver Charm. He’s got fight. He didn’t act like he was going to run by (Jerry) Hollendorfer’s horse (Battle of Midway). He seemed like he was pretty content. When Victor (Espinoza on Gormley) went by me, he knocked the whip out of my hand and I thought, ‘God, I need this thing,’ but my horse re-engaged with Gormley and I thought I was going to run second.

“Corey (Nakatani on Battle of Midway) came out and Victor came in ever so slightly, so I got crowded pretty good the last 50 yards and it might have cost me second, and it would have been great if I finished second, because we’d automatically be in (the Kentucky Derby) now with those points (40).

“I really like what I felt, a lot like I did with Silver Charm. I lost a battle yesterday but I might have won the war, because he put in a hell of an effort, got a lot of fitness, and a lot of schooling out of it.”