Sham Stakes marks Kentucky Derby trail's next big step

January 01, 2019 02:39pm

With the passing of each year, a new mad scramble to the Kentucky Derby begins. While the first Saturday in May remains months away, what happens in this weekend's biggest prep, the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park, could well make an impact on the field.

The road to the Kentucky Derby is a long one burdened with potential pitfalls and stumbling blocks, but to have your horse ready and able on the first Saturday in May, at least a few preps along the way are imperative. Even
Justify needed three races before arriving to Louisville. For some, the Derby trail begins early. It's a time for collecting both qualifying points and racing experience. Perhaps most importantly, though, it's when young horses begin to show whether they truly have the stuff to make the starting gate at Churchill Downs.

Of the many Kentucky Derby preps to be run in the first couple of weeks of 2019, it is Saturday's Sham that promises to have the most impact on the run for the roses. Last year's edition was won by the highly regarded McKinzie. This time around, all eyes at Santa Anita will be on
Coliseum. Owned by Godolphin and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, this is a colt much talked about even before his first race. That debut came back on Nov. 17 at Del Mar, and it met, if not exceeded, high expectations.

The son of Tapit was bet down to odds-on in the seven-furlong maiden special weight event and quickly showed why. Going right out to the lead, Coliseum flashed his talent throughout, and cantered down the lane the easiest kind of winner. Produced by the multiple graded stakes winning mare, Game Face, the homebred immediately became one of the most talked about horses in Baffert's loaded barn.


Since the eye-catching debut performance, Coliseum has been impressing in morning works, including three consecutive six-furlong bullets most recently. He certainly looks primed and ready to make a good showing in the one-mile Sham. Saturday's test will be a step up in class, though. If he is to keep the hype train rolling, he will need to get it done against some more experienced competition.

While Coliseum is a true blueblood,
Gray Magician, was a horse nobody had much interest in when he was offered up for auction as a yearling. Plenty has changed in the last 18 months. Originally trained by Hector Palma, the son of young sire, Graydar, made a positive impression in three consecutive maiden races. While none of them resulted in wins, he finished a good second or third in each, with the last two coming against highly regarded Baffert runners in Magic On Tap and Improbable.

The three defeats, all while sprinting, were enough for new connections -- Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable -- to buy in. In the process, the colt was transferred to the barn of Peter Miller and immediately stretched out. The resulting performance rivals that of Coliseum on the "wow" scale. Fresh off this 9 1/2-length runaway, and with four starts now under his belt, he'll come back at a mile again for his stakes debut.

Another expected for the Sham is Gunmetal Gray. Away since finishing fifth of 13 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt has something neither Coliseum nor Gray Magician has, and that's stakes experience.

Snatched out of the Ocala 2-year-old in training sale in March for $225,000 by Jerry Hollendorfer for a partnership which includes West Point Thouroughbreds, the son of Exchange Rate was a sharp winner going a mile in his second career start. After that, he was asked to run against the best. In the Grade 1 American Pharoah, he proved second best to the undefeated Game Winner, before his decent run in the Breeders' Cup, behind the same winner. 

Coliseum will likely be bet down again to make another positive step to the Kentucky Derby, but in a pair of two other gray colts, he should find a legitimate test in Saturday's Sham Stakes.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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