A pair of California-based speedsters hooked up in the far turn and dueled the length of the stretch in an exciting edition of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita. The more experienced of the two 3-year-old colts came out on top in the win photo, as Mr. and Mrs. Jerome Moss’ Gormley just nosed out American Anthem at the line. The son of Malibu Moon struggled in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, but rebounded well for trainer John Shirreffs. Under Victor Espinoza, Gormley covered a mile over the sloppy main track in 1:35.89 to earn 10 more points toward the Kentucky Derby, bringing his total to 20 (second on the leaderboard).
“It was nice yes,” said Espinoza. “I expected him to run the way he ran today. I know he’s still improving but I think he only gets better and better. Hopefully, he gets a lot better, but with this race and his next, he has a lot of potential to keep growing.”
Gormley led all the way in his G1 Frontrunner victory and broke well today, but the Bob Baffert-trained favorite American Anthem blew that idea out of the water as Mike Smith urged his colt to the front in the race to the first turn. At the quarter-mile point, American Anthem had a one-length lead over Gormley as he set a speedy fraction of 22.54 seconds. Down the backstretch, American Anthem eased the pace just a bit in the second quarter to mark the half mile in :45.46. Espinoza felt the subtle pace change and allowed Gormley to advance to within a half-length of American Anthem’s lead.
All throughout the far turn, Gormley steadily cut into American Anthem’s lead to the point that the two colts turned for home together. At the top of the lane Gormley gained the narrowest of advantages, but American Anthem was not finished and battled back gamely along the inside. American Anthem drew back even, then put his nose in front at the eighth pole. Espinoza and Gormley proved to have just enough left in the tank, as Gormley was able to get back in front in the shadow of the wire to win by a nose. American Anthem was certainly not disgraced in second, with Big Hit sneaking up for third.
“He’s quick,” said Shirreffs. “He starts quick, he gets away quickly. But then he checks himself as he gets into the race and he relaxes. It was great to see him pick it back up again and get it done.”
Bred in Kentucky by Castleton Lyons and the Kilroy Estate, Gormley did not reach his reserve when bidding stopped at $ 150,000 at the Keeneland September Sale. The colt won his first start, then impressed with a front-running win in the G1 FrontRunner Stakes. A poor start may have cost Gormley his race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he broke exceptionally well in the Sham. Overall, the colt has three wins from four starts for earnings of just under $ 300,000.
“This type of thing never gets old,” said a grinning Jerry Moss. “He’s got a lot of heart and I know he’ll go further than this. John’s doing all the right things as usual. This was a beautiful horse race and the fans got a thriller. No idea where we’ll run next.”
Watch the race replay here:
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