It’s time to start paying attention to the 3-year-olds and Saturday’s Sham Stakes at Santa Anita is the latest Derby trail race with Kentucky Derby points at stake.
A field of seven is scheduled to leave the gate at 7:04 p.m. ET from the Arcadia, Calif. track. Bob Baffert sends out the favorite, Coliseum (Even) looking to collect a record improving sixth win in the race.
The entries are looking to capitalize on the 10-4-2-1 Derby points available to the top four finishers. The full field will go a mile over the dirt at the Great Race Place in the second Derby prep race at the suburban Los Angeles track.
Oddly there’s never been a Classic winner to come out of this race. Colonel John won the 2008 edition before he went on to win the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the most notable winner of the group. Last year’s winner McKinzie recently won the Malibu S. in his 4-year-old debut and won last year’s Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.
There are eight races remaining after the Sham over the next six weeks which will then wrap up the Prep Season and move to the Championship Series when the points escalate. The points increase to 50-20-10-5 on Feb. 16 at the Fair Grounds for the Risen Star, the local prep for the Louisiana Derby.
Here’s a look at the entries for the 7-horse Sham (post position, horse, trainer, jockey, ML odds in parenthesis):
1 – Sueno (Desormeaux, Desormeaux, 20-1). The Desormeaux brothers team up on this son of Atreides who has won two straight including a non-graded stake at Golden Gate Fields. Has a sharp workout posted before the New Year and this duo can be dangerous when the Derby trail rolls around. Worth a look.
2 – Gray Magician (Miller, Prat, 4-1) Son of Graydar broke his maiden impressively at the mile distance at Del Mar winning by almost 10 lengths in his fourth career start after joining the Miller barn. This combination can be dangerous and is winning at a 26 percent clip over the past 60 days and this colt looks live.
3 – Savagery (Miller, Rosario, 10-1). Faded in the stretch at 28-1 in the Los Al Futurity when stretching out over a mile for the first time. Miller puts the shades back on to see if he can focus and could relish the shorter distance. After the last effort, tough to back and better to look elsewhere.
4 – Easy Shot (Desormeaux, Bejarano, 30-1). Longshot will run at Santa Anita for the first time after winning a maiden claimer in his fourth straight race at Del Mar. Goes two turns for the first time and that may be asking a lot in his first race on this track. Pass.
5 – Coliseum (Baffert, Talamo, 1-1). Tapit colt blew them away in his maiden victory debut race at Del Mar in November. He continues to light it up in the mornings for Baffert and looks like he has another star on the rise on the west coast. Five straight bullet workouts leading up to the race and he could be Godolphin’s best Derby hope ever. The one to beat.
6 – Gun Metal Gray (Hollendorfer, Smith, 5-2). Hall of Fame connections on the classiest horse in the field. The $225K purchase has raced against last year’s likely 2-year-old champion, finishing second in the G1 American Pharaoh and fifth in the Juvenile at Churchill. He’s the biggest threat to the favorite and had an excuse in the AP with a bobbled start and still finished strong on this racetrack. Contender.
7 – Much Better (Baffert, Van Dyke, 6-1). Everyone else is trying the turf to dirt change, why not big Bob? Has a couple decent works on the dirt for Baffert, including a couple bullets. Sometimes you have to keep your eye on the “other Baffert.” Don’t discount.
Post Time Outlook: 1 –Coliseum; 2 – Gun Metal Gray; 3 – Much Better; 4 – Gray Magician
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.