01/07/2017 9:11PM

Gormley outbattles American Anthem in Sham

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Benoit & Associates
Gormley (left), under Victor Espinoza, beats American Anthem and Mike Smith by a head in the Grade 3 Sham for 3-year-olds.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Gormley is named for a famed British sculptor, but it is trainer John Shirreffs who is molding Antony Gormley’s namesake into one of the top prospects for the Kentucky Derby. Gormley disappointed in his final start at age 2, but he rebounded on Saturday with a big effort, out-dueling the well-regarded American Anthem in a thrilling edition of the Grade 3, $100,690 Sham Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita.

 The Sham is the first graded stakes race this meet en route to the Santa Anita Derby, and then the Kentucky Derby, and if this is an omen for what lies ahead, it will be a compelling winter here. Gormley and American Anthem dueled throughout the one-mile race, and neither ever wilted, with the more-experienced Gormley prevailing by a head after a stirring stretch drive. American Anthem finished 13 lengths in front of third-place Big Hit, underscoring how well the two top ran.

 Gormley was timed in 1:35.89 for one mile on a sealed track rated sloppy after rain that lasted into the morning here. Shirreffs said he walked the track earlier in the day and said “it didn’t seem deep and heavy. After race 4, he conferred with jockey Victor Espinoza, who told Shirreffs the track had a good bottom.

 “At that point we decided to run,” Shirreffs said.

 Gormley ($5.20) was the second choice to American Anthem, who went off the even-money favorite off a debut win sprinting at Del Mar.

 Gormley was a bit washy heading to the starting gate, but Espinoza said that’s his usual behavior both on race day and in the morning. Gormley left the gate quickly from post 5, and American Anthem was sent hard from his rail draw, and a furlong into the race the duel was on.

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 “He’s quick. He gets into it really quickly,” said Shirreffs, who said he likes how Gormley settles after showing good speed away from the gate.

 Espinoza liked how Gormley dug in back when American Anthem refused to yield.

“He’s still improving,” Espinoza said. “I think with more races he’ll improve.”

 Shirreffs said he would be inclined to run Gormley in next month’s Robert Lewis and then the San Felipe prior to the Santa Anita Derby – which would be a once-a-month schedule – “but it all depends on how he comes out of his races,” Shirreffs said.

 Gormley, a colt by Malibu Moon, is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, for whom Shirreffs trained Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo as well as the Hall of Fame mare Zenyatta. He has now won three times in four starts. He won his debut sprinting at Del Mar in September, captured the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes in his next start, and then was a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after getting off to a poor start.

 “After the Breeders’ Cup, he needed to repeat a good effort, which he did today,” Shirreffs said.

 Gormley now has 20 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth, with 10 each from the FrontRunner and the Sham.