03/01/2008 1:00AM

Colonel John wins Sham with right trip

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Benoit & Associates
Colonel John, in his 3-year-old debut, holds off the previously unbeaten El Gato Malo to win the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A two-horse race on paper turned into a two-horse race on the track, and the horse who had the better trip prevailed. Colonel John, able to stalk the slow pace set by longshot Victory Pete, held off the late bid of an unlucky El Gato Malo to take the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds on a drizzly Saturday afternoon at Santa Anita.

Colonel John, ridden by Garrett Gomez, won by a half-length, with the previously unbeaten El Gato Malo finishing three lengths in front of third-place Victory Pete. Reflect Times was fourth, and Success Fee trailed in the field of five. Coast Guard and Trevor's Clever were scratched.

Colonel John ($5) completed the 1o1/8 miles on the synthetic surface in 1:50.15 in a race that was painfully slow early, then quick late, resembling a grass race. Gomez may have made the difference by recognizing the slow early pace - 24.97 seconds, 50.04 seconds, 1:14.35 for the first six furlongs - and keeping Colonel John closest to Victory Pete.

Colonel John broke from the fourth post among the five runners, with Victory Pete just to his inside. Gomez kept Colonel John lapped on Victory Pete, while Reflect Times moved up three paths wide into the backstretch to put the leaders three abreast.

El Gato Malo, the 3-5 favorite, started from the rail, and when he was taken back off the early pace by jockey David Flores, his post, and the dawdling pace, compromised his chances. He had to sit behind the slow-moving leaders, who were fresh when he attacked. Flores used El Gato Malo to knock Reflect Times out of the way to secure room at the quarter pole, and then El Gato Malo and Colonel John made a mad dash for the wire.

Colonel John completed the final three furlongs in 35.80 seconds.

Colonel John, a colt by Tiznow, was making his first start since finishing second in the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22. He has now won 3 of 5 starts. He was bred and is owned by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Trout, and is trained by Eoin Harty.

Next up for Colonel John will be the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5, followed by the Kentucky Derby on May 3 at Churchill Downs.

"He's got the ability. I'm sure he can get the distance. It's just a matter of not getting in his way," Harty said.