01/16/2017 5:15PM

Road to the 2017 Derby: Sham Stakes

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Grade 3, $100,690 Sham Stakes, one mile, Santa Anita, Jan. 7, 2017
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Gormley, by Malibu Moon
Trainer: John Shirreffs
Jockey: Victor Espinoza
Owner: Jerry and Ann Moss
Beyer Speed Figure: 94

GORMLEY disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he bounced back here with an encouraging effort, earning a career-best Beyer figure in his 3-year-old debut while downing a promising prospect in AMERICAN ANTHEM, who ran a terrific race himself. These two should be major players moving toward, at least, the Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

In the Sham, Gormley broke best but conceded the advantage into the first turn to American Anthem, who rushed up inside to take the lead. Gormley sat a length off American Anthem into the backstretch, inched closer into the far turn, poked his head in front coming into the lane, but was tested every step to the wire while narrowly prevailing. The top two went fast early and came home well enough over this track while finishing 13 lengths clear of the rest of the field.

Gormley has now won two two-turn graded stakes races at Santa Anita, one on a fast track – in the FrontRunner (http://www.drf.com/news/road-2017-kentucky-derby-frontrunner-stakes-analysis) – and on a sloppy, sealed track here. That adaptability could prove beneficial if the wet winter in California persists.

American Anthem, who finished second, turned in an outstanding performance; this was his second start, first around two turns, first against winners, first in a stakes, and first on an off track, plus he was conceding plenty of experience to Gormley. American Anthem broke a half-step slow but was sent along from his inside draw to take the lead into the first turn. He led narrowly over Gormley down the backstretch and around the far turn, had every right to yield when Gormley put his head in front in upper stretch, but relentlessly battled back along the inside to just miss. American Anthem did not wear mud calks. Gormley – and BIG HIT – were the only two in the race who did wear calks.

Big Hit, who was third, appeared intimidated heading into the first turn and had to be checked, settled into fourth while wide around the first turn, was asked into the far turn while still wide and got within three lengths of the top two, but could not keep up with the top two and lost ground through the final quarter-mile. He’s a cut below the best in Southern California, but could do some good if sensibly placed in some lucrative spots elsewhere.

BIRD IS THE WORD, who was fourth, raced between horses near the back of the pack into the first turn, angled to the rail down the backstretch, was taken off the rail nearing the top of the lane, then finished evenly. He’s still a maiden, and his best race to date was on turf.

TERM OF ART, who was fifth, lacked speed per usual and trailed while racing along the rail into the first turn, was even with Bird Is the Word three furlongs out, but was out-finished by that rival while never making any impact in a dull try.

COLONEL SAMSEN, who was sixth, raced three paths wide while near the rear of the pack into the first turn, steadily advanced to be about a length behind Big Hit with a half-mile to go, saved ground around the far turn and into the lane but never got involved. This was his first start on dirt after six prior starts on either grass or synthetic.

BLABIMIR, who was last of seven, bobbled a bit leaving the gate, advanced from his outside draw to be third into the first turn while behind and outside the top two, was asked hard into the far turn when Big Hit came up outside him, then shortly thereafter was eased out of the race as he began to drop back while nearing the quarter pole.