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Secret Circle Stretches Out in Sham Stakes

Secret Circle, ridden by jockey Rafael Bejarano and trained by Bob Baffert wins the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on November 4, 2011.
Bob Baffert’s unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint champion Secret Circle and Steve Asmussen’s impressive maiden sprint winner Hierro will be among six 3-year-olds who earnestly launch campaigns aimed toward both the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Sham Stakes.

The Sham, at one mile, is especially notable in that it presents many of the promising youngsters with their first opportunity to compete around two turns whereas distance capabilities are a vital element toward their pursuit of both the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 7 as well as the mile-and-one-quarter Kentucky Derby May 5 at Churchill Downs.


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In the Sham, both Secret Circle and Hierro will be racing around two turns for the first time. Hall of Fame trainer Baffert, a winner of nine Triple Crown events, has watched Secret Circle capture three sprint competitions by a combined 13 ½ lengths climaxed by his one-length victory in the Juvenile Sprint at odds of 2-5.


The 46-year-old Asmussen, who on Nov. 18 became the youngest trainer and only the fifth in North American history to reach the 6,000 win plateau, took a little longer to get Hierro into high gear. The son of Hard Spun turned heads in his third start while blitzing maidens going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs on Nov. 9. He won, according to the official race chart, “as the rider pleased” while scoring by 5 ½ lengths.


Rafael Bejarano, aboard for each of Secret Circle’s three wins, will be back atop the son of Eddington purchased for $165,000 by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. Julien Leparoux will fly in from the East to rejoin Hierro, a $350,000 March, 2011 sales purchase by Stonestreet Stable.


Just as the Sham Stakes leads to the Santa Anita Derby, Saturday’s companion feature, the Grade II, $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes at 1 1/16 miles, serves as the first major step toward Santa Anita’s other mega event, the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on March 3.


Tres Borrachos, winner of last summer’s Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar and a narrow loser to Kettle Corn most recently in Hollywood Park’s Grade III Native Diver Handicap, heads a field of eight in the 75th running of the San Pasqual.


Baffert, rich as usual in Triple Crown prospects which include Grade I Hollywood Futurity winner Liaison, rates Secret Circle among his most promising. With earnings of $348,990, Secret Circle, at least, is getting a jump on his sire.


Eddington failed to make the 2004 Run for the Roses due to a lack of graded earnings despite a third-place finish to Tapit in the Grade I Wood Memorial. Eddington would run second to Smarty Jones in the Preakness. In 2005, he took the Grade I Pimlico Special Handicap as well as the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap while trained by Mart Hennig.


Hierro also has the breeding for classic distances. Hard Spun, a son of Danzig, was bred for endurance. He finished second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont Stakes before a runner-up finish to Curlin in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Hierro, who has banked $41,600 for his connections, will be seeking his first graded stakes earnings in the Sham.


The field includes distance-tested Handsome Mike, who finished seventh, 2 ¾ lengths behind Liaison after setting much of the pace in the Dec. 17, Grade I CashCall Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. Earlier, Handsome Mike ran second to Stoney Fleece in Hollywood Park’s Grade III Generous Stakes at one mile on turf. Corey Nakatani rides the Scat Daddy colt trained by Doug O’Neill who has earned $50,780 for J. Paul Reddam.


Joel Rosario has the Sham mount on Longview Drive for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. After winning 3 of 4 starts on Northern California tracks, Longview Drive ran third behind well-regarded Sabercat in the Grade III Delta Jackpot over 1 1/6 miles at Delta Downs on Nov. 19.


Garrett Gomez, who swept Santa Anita’s three stakes races on Sunday and Monday, will try to extend his streak when riding Darley Stable’s Out of Bounds for trainer Eoin Harty. The Discreet Cat colt broke his maiden going seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on Dec. 10 and will make his third start in the Sham.


The complete field for the Sham Stakes, with jockeys in post position order (all entrants carry 118 pounds): Senor Rain, Agapito Delgadillo; Out of Bounds, Garrett Gomez; Hierro, Julien Leparoux; Secret Circle, Rafael Bejarano; Longview Drive, Joel Rosario, and Handsome Mike, Corey Nakatani.

 

 

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