In Saturday’s third race at Santa Anita, one of America’s top Kentucky Derby prospects, Goldencents will be favored to take his speed wire-to-wire in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. If he does so and becomes a major force on the Kentucky Derby trail, it will be a fitting outcome for a race named after the famous runner of the 1970’s. Like tomorrow’s favorite, Sham also began his sophomore campaign in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains. Win or lose tomorrow, Goldencents has a long way to go, though, if he hopes to reach the stature of Sham, one of the best horses ever to be defeated in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Sham’s racing career began in earnest after switching barns. He was purchased at Belmont Park in the Hancock Dispersal Sale in November of 1972, and was turned over to trainer, Pancho Martin, by his new owners, Sigmund and Viola Sommer. A master of turning horses around, the crafty Martin equipped the strapping son of Pretense with blinkers, and watched as his career took off. The new found focus brought on by the new equipment paid immediate dividends. Sham’s first start for his new connections resulted in a six length romp at Aqueduct in December. While the juvenile sensation, Secretariat, was securing Horse of the Year honors, Martin felt that he was sitting on something big in the new addition to his barn. Sent to Southern California for the winter, Sham would continue his quick improvement and winning ways.
On New Year’s Day, 1973, Sham was introduced to Southern California racing fans in a big way. The big bay annihilated a Santa Anita allowance field by 15 lengths in fast time, under the capable hands of new rider, Laffit Pincay. Sigmund Sommer, his wife, Viola, and Pancho Martin were now officially on the Derby trail with their fall purchase. Next up would be another allowance race and another dominating performance. His running time for the 1 1/16 miles of 1:41 2/5 was only a second off the track record. Three for three since joining Team Sommer and Martin, Sham was now clearly ready for the big time.
Despite some traffic issues, Sham rolled in a muddy edition of the Santa Catalina Stakes by 2 ½ lengths in his first stakes try. In his next race he would face the other highly regarded sophomore in the West Coast, Linda’s Chief. Sham’s four race winning streak would be snapped that day, as Pincay never found that hole to burst through that he did in the Santa Catalina. His tough luck trip in the San Felipe ended only with a rally to finish fourth.
Because of his first defeat since moving to Martin’s barn, Sham was sent off as the second choice in the Santa Anita Derby, behind Linda’s Chief. That would prove to be a mistake as Sham gained revenge on his foe with a decisive two length score. Final time for the nine furlong major Derby prep was 1:47 flat equaling the fastest ever for the prestigious race. The win came on March 31, 1973, meaning that in a period of three months, Sham had won four-of-five starts at Santa Anita, and had established himself as one of the stronger Kentucky Derby threats to come out of Southern California in several years.
Of course you all know the story of Sham’s next four races, and his great battles with Secretariat in the 1973 Wood Memorial, Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. Sham may not have won any of those races, but his great talent and toughness should never be forgotten.
So on Saturday, please enjoy the new three-year-olds running in the Sham Stakes, but take a moment to remember the race’s namesake, for Sham is most certainly worth remembering.