Kentucky Derby: 2013 Road Begins with the Sham Stakes
Happy New Year. Now, let the 3-yr-old season begin. The trail to the 2013 Kentucky Derby begins on Saturday when we head back to California, the same place that was the location for a pair of big time Juvenile wins. The biggest difference between those races and the Grade 3 Sham Stakes is that this field will not include any horse that is trained by Todd Pletcher.
Leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the FrontRunner Stakes was the only California circuit race included in the new qualification system. The result didn’t come as much of surprise when three California circuit horses secured their spots in the top 3 (Power Broker, Know More, Capo Bastone). But, that would be the end of the California kids leading the way since Todd Pletcher had other ideas.
In from New York Shanghai Bobby arrived at Santa Anita for the BC Juvenile, a race that would decide how much talent he really had. After a stretch duel for the ages he proved that he had more than enough and that the undefeated show would go on. But Todd Pletcher wasn’t finished yet. In the final qualifying race of the 2012 season he shipped another horse out west for the very first time. And in the end he came away with the same exact result when Violence got the best of the West Coast contenders in the G1 CashCall Futurity.
So, it’s good news for our 2013 Sham Stakes field that Todd Pletcher is out and even more good news that no one in the field has yet to make a start on the California Racing Cicuit. Instead, our field features a field of six horses with California connections and appear to be ready to kick start the New Year with a strong move in the right direction; the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Leading the field is Goldencents, currently ranked in 2nd place on the Kentucky Derby leader board with 14 points. Trained by Doug O’Neill by Into Mischief - Golden Works, he will be making his first start since becoming the impressive winner of the G3 Delta Jackpot on November 17. Although Goldencents made his name outside of the Golden State his career still began at Del Mar. It was there that he wasted little time getting on the path to bigger and better things when he romped home to a 7 length victory in his debut MSW race at 5 ½ Furlongs. The win was so impressive it convinced Doug O’Neill to set him up for a graded stakes showdown against the most talked about Juvenile in the land; Shanghai Bobby.
Although he proved to be no match for the eventual BC Juvenile Champion in the G2 Champagne Stakes the seeds were planted and it would only be a matter of time before Goldencents would enter the winners circle against graded stakes competition. As it turned out it didn’t take long as the healthy looking bay colt proved to be much the best in the Jackpot Stakes at Delta Downs. Owned by Rick Pitino’s RAP Racing, WC Racing or Kenney, Goldencents has been training at Santa Anita since. In his most recent work the colt showed that he is continuing to progress when he clocked the fastest 6F work of the day on December 27 - 1:10.20. Regular rider Kevin Krigger is scheduled to return to the irons for the fourth time in this the colt’s fourth lifetime race.
I’m excited to see this Doug O’Neill colt return for the 3-yr-old season. The new Kentucky Derby qualification system has been met with a lot of skepticism but one thing that everyone seems to agree with is the elimination of the overvalued Juvenile races. In years past Goldencents would be sitting pretty with $680,000 of graded stakes earnings but now he only has 10 points and more racing ahead of him. There is still a long way to go for this dynamic team but I think they are on the right track because so far, Goldencents has shown the look of a derby contender.
Bob Baffert will send out a pair of capable colts in the Sham, Den’s Legacy and Manando. Den’s Legacy has a resume of races against very deep fields and a record that improved considerably since finishing 5th in the FrontRunner Stakes, his first graded stakes race. From there he notched back to back 2nd place finishes on the turf in the Zuma Beach Stakes and BC Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview before scoring in the G3 Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park. The victory led to a strong effort and 3rd place finish from well off the pace in the G1 CashCall Futurity. Although it puts him near the bottom of the leader board the 3 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for that effort may come in handy down the road.
The big question surrounding this colt by Medaglia d'Oro - Sunshine Song is how well will he respond to racing on the dirt. This will be his first time since the FrontRunner Stakes in September but his recent workouts over the dirt do indicate that he may be ready - 4F, 46.40, Rank 1/76. As for Manando, he has much more to prove as this will be his first Graded Stakes Race. Prior it took him four MSW races before notching the win over a distance of 1 1/16 and winning time of 1:44.05 on the All Weather Track at Hollywood. He has a lot to demonstrate before he can get our derby contender attention but it’s probably not wise to throw him out without giving him a good look.
A horse in the same boat as Manado is Greeley Awesome. What I don’t like about Doug O’Neill’s second entry is how long it has taken him to develop his first win. In his seventh try he got it but it was also his third consecutive Maiden Claiming race. Doug O’Neill could very easily show me what he sees in this horse that I do not but until then I’ll probably have to remain unconvinced.
Rounding out the field are two horses that are graded stakes tested but still searching for their first graded stakes win. Based on victories alone the better of the two is Dry Summer, winner of the Oak Tree Juvenile Stakes where he got up late to beat Power Broker by a neck. He hasn’t fared so well since then but his last two races can be quickly forgotten with a nice effort in the Sham. As for Dirty Swagg he’s in need of a big jump as he has yet to hit the board in three graded stakes attempts.
In the short history of the Sham Stakes, Giacomo is the only entry to have ever gone on and win the Kentucky Derby. In the 2005 edition he finished third before moving on to two other California Preps, the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby. Of the connections entered on Saturday, Bob Baffert is the only Trainer to have scored. Winner of the inaugural Sham Stakes with Wild and Wise, Bob Baffert returned to the winners circle with Bob and John in 2006. As for the riders Garrett Gomez is the only jockey to have won the Sham. If he scores again on Saturday it will be his third consecutive win and record breaking 5th all time.
And so the 3-yr-old season and excitement begins. The road to the first Saturday in May is longer than the amount of days it will take to get there but we have to start somewhere in the New Year. And that place is the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park - Welcome Back!