February 21, 2024

Newgrange measures time right in Sham

Newgrange with John Velazquez riding wins the Sham Stakes (Photo by Horsephotos)

The ancient Irish monument Newgrange is famous for its precision engineering that captures the shaft of light at sunrise on the winter solstice. On New Year’s Day at Santa Anita, promising sophomore Newgrange, and John Velazquez, likewise did an excellent job of marking time in the $100,000 Sham (G3) for Kentucky Derby (G1) hopefuls.

Once beating Bob Baffert stablemate (and 3-2 favorite) Rockefeller to the early lead, Newgrange then proceeded to set a pace that could be described as ceremonial. The son of Violence had shown high speed in his six-furlong debut victory at Del Mar, but rated kindly on the front end in this stakes and two-turn test. After getting away with fractions of :24.46, :48.94, and 1:12.84, Newgrange drew off by 2 3/4 lengths while finishing the mile in 1:38.32.

Rockefeller couldn’t maintain his attending position and faded to a well-beaten second behind the 2.70-1 Newgrange, who was giving Baffert his eighth trophy in the Sham. The top two were not eligible for the Sham’s Derby points, since Baffert is barred by Churchill Downs Inc.

Rallying third Oviatt Class just missed catching Rockefeller by a nose, in a very promising display considering the race shape was all against him. The Keith Desormeaux pupil, who was also third in the American Pharoah (G1), picked up another two points to double his tally to four.

Turf performer Mackinnon earned one point in fourth. Degree of Risk chased early but dropped back in his first dirt attempt, winding up a distant last of the quintet.

Velazquez recapped his straightforward trip:

“There was one speed, the other Bob Baffert horse (Rockefeller), and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want them in a head and head. He told me to put my horse on the lead. Once my horse got to the lead he waited. I took a little hold of him and he kind of started waiting for the horses, so I started waiting for the horses to come to him, by the time we got to the backside I kind of let him do his own thing. I let him get in a comfortable rhythm, after that it was pretty easy though.

“He’s so green, he feels like he got on by himself, he was waiting for horses, so I had to give him a little reminder to keep his mind on running. And his gallop-out was pretty good, so it still seems like he’s learning.”

Now 2-for-2 with $102,000 in earnings, Newgrange has followed the path of Baffert’s past two Sham winners. Authentic (2020) and Life Is Good (2021) both won first out sprinting during Del Mar’s Bing Crosby season in November, then used the Sham as a springboard onto the Derby trail. While Authentic went on to take the pandemic-delayed Run for the Roses, Life Is Good missed the Triple Crown due to injury, but came on strong in the second half after joining Todd Pletcher.

Newgrange and Rockefeller share the same ownership consortium – Golconda Stable, Madaket Stables, SF Racing, Siena Farm, Starlight Racing, Stonestreet Stables, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Robert E. Masterson, and Jay A. Schoenfarber. Bred by Jack Mandato and Black Rock Thoroughbreds in Kentucky, Newgrange was purchased by bloodstock guru Donato Lanni for $125,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

Newgrange’s dam, the Empire Maker mare Bella Chianti, is a full sister to stakes-placed Zimmer as well as to Soot Z, who produced ill-fated Grade 2 star Amalfi Sunrise. Bella Chianti is a daughter of Grade 2 vixen Bella Chiara, herself a half to multiple Grade 3 turfiste David Copperfield.