The road to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby begins on Saturday, as Santa Anita will present the Grade III, $100,000 Sham Stakes at a flat mile, a wide-open affair that has attracted six sophomores, five of which exit maiden special weight victories—including the Kory Owens-trained Top Fortitude, who will again by ridden by Kayla Stra, and Midnight Hawk, owned in-part by former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice and Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
Photo: Betfair Hollywood Park
Owned and bred in Arizona by the Owens family-owned Triple AAA Ranch, Top Fortitude earned a Sham-best last out Beyer Speed figure of 92 in a first-out maiden score going 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.20 at Betfair Hollywood Park Nov. 16.
By Top Hit, Top Fortitude worked a sharp five furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:01.60 on Jan. 3, and should show plenty of speed in his first try around two turns. Should he win, it would make national news inasmuch as the popular Stra, 29, would have a bona fide Derby candidate.
The leading money earner in the Sham field is Life Is a Joy, who comes off a second place finish in the statebred King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park Dec. 22. Owned and bred in-part by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 3-year-old gelding by Globalize won the Charlie Palmer Futurity at Fresno Oct. 5, and he has earnings of $131,330 from a record of 6-3-1-0.
Reddam Racing LLC’s Ontology, a one mile maiden turf winner on Dec. 28, has also been a frequent bank visitor, as he has $109,250 in earnings from a win and three seconds. A Kentucky-bred colt by hot sire Tapit, Ontology was well beaten in two Grade I attempts last fall: The mile and a sixteenth FrontRunner Sept. 28 and the one mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Nov. 1.Trained by Simon Callaghan, Ontology zipped five furlongs in 59.60 at Santa Anita on Dec. 21 and will be making his ninth start on Saturday.
Much like Top Fortitude, Bob Baffert’s Midnight Hawk exits an impressive first-out maiden win. By Midnight Lute and bred in Kentucky by Mike Pegram, Midnight Hawk looked every bit a 6-5 favorite in winning by 6 ¼ lengths going 7 ½ furlongs on Dec. 13 at Hollywood Park.
In addition to Tice and Quenneville, Midnight Hawk is owned by John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings, Inc., Mike Kitchen and Pegram. He worked a bullet five furlongs in 58.40 on Jan. 6 and could well go favored again with Mike Smith aboard.
Trainer John Sadler’s Kristo has the advantage of breaking his maiden by 6 ¾ lengths at 1 1/16 miles, which he did last out on Oct. 31. Owned by Hronis Racing LLC, the Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor drilled six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Jan. 5, and will be making his fourth career start Saturday.
Doug O’Neill’s I’ll Wrap It Up also comes off a maiden win at 1 1/16 miles, on Dec. 7, and will be “two turning” for the third time in-a-row in the Sham. By Tapit, he’s owned by Daniel Kramer and Westside Rentals.com and will be ridden for the first time by Tyler Baze in what will be his sixth start.Previously based at Hollywood Park, I’ll Wrap It Up worked five furlongs at Santa Anita on Jan. 4 in 1:01.80.
The complete field for the Sham, to be run as the fifth race on a nine-race card Saturday, with jockeys, in post position order, all horses assigned 118 pounds: Kristo, Rafael Bejarano; I’ll Wrap It Up, Tyler Baze; Life Is a Joy, Corey Nakatani; Ontology, Mario Gutierrez; Top Fortitude, Kayla Stra, and Midnight Hawk, Mike Smith.