03/08/2017 3:26PM

Derby Watch: Shirreffs having double the fun this year

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gormley trains Monday at Santa Anita for the San Felipe Stakes on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – It has been nearly 12 years since John Shirreffs won the Kentucky Derby in 2005 with Giacomo, and in that time, he’s still never watched a replay of the race.

“It was just too good,” said Shirreffs, who said he only wants to remember the race from his perspective, not have it altered by watching a pan-camera angle. His memory includes not only what he saw while standing near the outer rail, about a sixteenth of a mile from the finish, but how he felt.

“The feelings, always the feelings,” he said when asked what he remembers most from that day. “It’s hard to believe he won. It’s really hard to comprehend, right after the race, what you’re experiencing. And then when they put the roses on him, I didn’t know if he could stand up. You see the effort that the horse makes. It’s really something. It doesn’t come easy.”

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Shirreffs, 71, has the potential to make some new Derby memories this spring. Famously patient, Shirreffs uncharacteristically has a pair of prospects for the May 6 Kentucky Derby, both of whom own stakes wins already this year at Santa Anita. Gormley, the winner of the Sham Stakes in January, is set to race again on Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes here at Santa Anita in a final prep for next month’s Santa Anita Derby, while Royal Mo, the winner of last month’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes, is scheduled to go to Oaklawn Park on March 18 for the Grade 2, $900,000 Rebel Stakes.

Both colts are ridden by three-time Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, who on Wednesday joined Shirreffs as two of the 11 nominees on this year’s ballot for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Both Gormley and Royal Mo are owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, who also owned Giacomo as well as the most famous horse with whom Shirreffs is associated, the Hall of Fame mare Zenyatta. Shirreffs describes Jerry Moss as a “Renaissance man, like the Italians who were patrons of the arts.” Moss has owned racehorses for more than 35 years, but Shirreffs said there was a particular emphasis put for this crop on “buying horses who were precocious, who would be 2-year-old runners.”

Gormley, a son of Malibu Moon, was purchased privately, but Shirreffs remembers first seeing him at a sale and thinking, “He was the best-looking horse.”

“You see so many good horses, but he caught my attention, and I kept coming back to look at him again and again and again, and he always looked good every time they brought him out,” Shirreffs said.

Gormley won first time out sprinting at Del Mar, went straight into the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita and wired that field, then was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to conclude his 2-year-old campaign. In his only start this year, he outfought American Anthem to win the Grade 3 Sham.

Shirreffs said he has been able to work around the rain that has plagued Santa Anita this winter.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “We got the works in when we needed.”

Gormley has worked seven times since the Sham, including a six-furlong drill in 1:11 on Feb. 27, an unusually fast time for a Shirreffs worker.

“He’s very quick,” Shirreffs said. “He gets to his cruising speed quickly.”

The San Felipe is shaping up as a terrific race, with the highly regarded stakes winners Iliad and Mastery among those also set for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Royal Mo was acquired at the Keeneland yearling sale in September 2015 because Shirreffs’s wife, Dottie – the longtime racing manager for the Mosses – “wanted to get an Uncle Mo,” Shirreffs said.

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Her son, bloodstock agent David Ingordo, found Royal Mo, Shirreffs said.

“He’s a big, rangy colt,” Shirreffs said. “His coat always shines. He has all the qualities of a top-class horse.”

Royal Mo was second in sprints in his first two starts, then stretched out and beat maidens at Del Mar last November. In his only start this year, he won the Grade 3 Lewis, making him 2 for 2 around two turns.

Both are farther along at this point than was Giacomo, but Shirreffs is maintaining his equilibrium. Having been down the Derby trail previously “gives me a unique perspective because Giacomo never won [at 3] before the Derby,” Shirreffs said.

“That’s my experience,” he said, laughing. “The important thing is the horse just has to continue to improve.”

And that would enable both to get to Churchill Downs.

“It’s very exciting,” Shirreffs said. “Oh my goodness, that’s the dream.”

John 14 days ago
Shirreff doesn't ride Mike Smith anymore? 
Randy Peterson 14 days ago
Baffert has Smith locked up on MASTERY.
Randy Peterson 14 days ago
Baffert has Smith locked up on MASTERY.
Joseph Donato 14 days ago
you know, i am not so high on these two sheriff trainees, but if victor espinoza is in the saddle, you have to give them a good chance
Deana Dameron 14 days ago
I personally do not care for VE as a jockey but that is my opinion.  It seems he lacks experience, dimension, and grit in his riding, he seems to ride the same way time after time.  There are several very experienced exceptional riders in the CA jockey colony.  I wish he would use one of them.  VE demanded a % of AP's breeding, demanded promotional fees to be paid for events, pictures, etc., also with CC.  Bob Baffert and he got into it and he refused to buy into all the DIVA behavior, then Mike Smith has been riding along with others again for him.  Mike Smith has never been paid for all the promotional work he does for Z, etc. and he has given many hours.  But of course, Mike rides for a great many owners, not just a few.  Not sure what happened with the Moss', but they are certainly cordial and JS and Mike did all the autographs on Z's bottles for BC together so they are on good terms.  Sometimes changes happen but I would love to see MS in those silks again.
Joseph Donato 14 days ago
i love all the adjectives  that describe VICTOR ESPINOZA. say what you want, thats your opinion.   to me , this is a  free enterprise/capitalistic  country. VE falls off the horse and breaks his neck, the good money stops coming in. so, he CAPITALIZES  when he is still able too. i could go on... but i think that i am speaking to a real liberal and maybe you  work for free ( i am just guessing)
Mary Clancy 13 days ago
Victor also donates a percentage of all of his earnings to a children's hospital in LA!
Kathleen Palmore 11 days ago
all his earnings huh now thats generous, no thats bs.