By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Get ready, everyone! Another terrific day of racing awaits on January 9th, highlighted by the return of 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome in the San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. But for Kentucky Derby fans, the best race of the week is probably the $100,000 Sham Stakes (gr. III), a one-mile race that marks the first Derby prep race of the 2016 Santa Anita meet. The race has drawn a talented field of nine up-and-coming three-year-olds, so let’s take a look at the entries!
|1||Rare Candy||Joe Talamo||David Hofmans||4th Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|2||Dressed in Hermes||Mike Smith||Janet Armstrong||1st Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
|3||Let’s Meet in Rio||Kent Desormeaux||Bob Baffert||1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|4||Found Money||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill||1st King Glorious Stakes (VIDEO)|
|5||Semper Fortis||Kieren Fallon||Doug O’Neill||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|6||Laoban||Tyler Baze||Eric Guillot||2nd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)|
|7||I’malreadythere||Rafael Bejarano||Jerry Hollendorfer||3rd Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
|8||Sorryaboutnothing||Flavien Prat||Doug O’Neill||7th Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
|9||Collected||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert||2nd Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
At first glance, the Sham Stakes looks like a battle between Doug O’Neill and Bob Baffert, since they’ll send out five of the nine starters. A closer look at the race does little to dispel that belief, as O’Neill and Baffert train several of the expected favorites, including the two horses I like best.
We’ll start by analyzing Doug O’Neill’s three runners, which are led by the two-time stakes winner Found Money. A talented colt that has won or placed in five of his seven starts, Found Money’s first try beyond seven furlongs yielded a disappointing performance in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III), in which Found Money failed to showcase his typical early speed and could only pass tired horses to finish a distant fourth. However, he rebounded when trying a two-turn mile in the King Glorious Stakes against fellow California-breds at Los Alamitos, rallying gamely from a couple lengths behind to defeat Glory Bound by 1 ¼ lengths.
It’s worth noting that Found Money was slowing down quite a bit at the finish of the King Glorious—he ran the final quarter-mile in just :25.61—and my gut feeling is that he’s going to prove best as a sprinter, but in terms of talent, he fits well in the Sham Stakes and should be able to handle the one-mile distance against this caliber of competition. Additionally, he figures to get a good trip starting from post four, and if some of the speedy runners drawn outside of him commit to the lead, he should be able to stalk the pace and rally into contention in the homestretch, just as he did in the King Glorious.
But in the event that Found Money gets leg-weary in the final furlong, Doug O’Neill will still have a big chance to win with Semper Fortis, who has won two straight races after being beaten in his first three starts. His maiden win came in a five-furlong claiming race at Del Mar, which isn’t usually where you would expect to find a Sham Stakes contender, but the well-bred colt—who sold for $525,000 as a yearling—showed substantial improvement when stretched out to a mile two weeks later in an allowance optional claiming race at Los Alamitos, which he won by a half-length with a strong late run. He doesn’t have the reputation of Found Money, but I think he has a better chance to handle the distance and will give a good account of himself on Saturday.
O’Neill’s third runner is Sorryaboutnothing, who won a one-mile maiden race at Del Mar in his second start before finishing last in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I). His effort that day was a bit of a disappointment, but I also think he’s better than he showed and has a chance to rebound in the Sham. Flavien Prat, back in action after suffering a back injury last year, has the mount.
Bob Baffert is off to a bit of a slow start at the current Santa Anita meet, winning with just one of his first nineteen starters, but he holds a strong hand in the Sham with his two starters. The most prominent of the pair is Collected, a son of City Zip that broke his maiden on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course before stretching out to a mile and running second in the Cecil B. DemIlle Stakes (gr. III) after taking a clear lead in the homestretch. The Sham will mark his first start on dirt, but although Collected’s pedigree suggests that turf might be his preferred surface, his excellent early speed and impressive workouts on dirt suggest that the surface switch won’t be a problem. Breaking from post nine in a race without many definite front-runners, Collected figures to work out a great trip staying out of trouble while setting or stalking the pace. Reports have it that Bob Baffert thinks a lot of Collected, and I think he is the most likely winner of this race.
I’m also very interested Collected’s Baffert-trained stablemate Let’s Meet in Rio, a Juddmonte Farms runner that lost his first two starts sprinting before scoring an impressive win going a mile at Los Alamitos. Reserved off the early pace that day, Let’s Meet in Rio required a lot of urging to get going in the homestretch, but when he finally got into gear, he flew home the final furlong in about :12 flat, gaining five lengths in the final furlong to blow past front-running Laoban—who looked like a winner at the eighth pole!—to win going away by 1 ½ lengths.
Granted, his late run was probably enhanced by the very long homestretch at Los Alamitos, but since his maiden win, Let’s Meet in Rio’s workouts have been exceptional, most notably a half-mile breeze in :46.60 on December 27th that was the fastest of 110 workouts at that distance. Down the road, I think Let’s Meet in Rio has the potential to be a major player on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but on Saturday, I’ll side with Collected to beat him to the finish in the Sham.
I’d also like to briefly mention Dressed in Hermes, who defeated Collected in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes. The son of Hat Trick has raced primarily on turf and finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I), but in his lone start on dirt, he finished a respectable fourth behind Exaggerator in a six-furlong maiden race at Del Mar. A win by Dressed in Hermes would definitely not be a surprise—he might even start as the favorite—but his late-running success on turf might not translate as well to dirt, where early speed usually has a distinct advantage.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Sham Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings.
Also, don't forget that starting January 1st and continuing until January 8th, all players will have an opportunity to add eight horses to their contest stables. You can choose your additions by posting a comment on the official blog page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.