Gormley Captures California’s First Kentucky Derby Prep after Thrilling Stretch Duel in Sham

Gormley (photo by Benoit Photo).

Gormley (photo by Benoit Photo).

California’s Road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) kicked off with a bang at Santa Anita on Saturday as the two top contenders in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (GIII) — Gormley and American Anthem — battled each other through every step of the one-mile test, with Gormley prevailing over his rival by a head at the wire to capture the second graded stakes of his career and reaffirming his position as a leading candidate for the Run for the Roses.

The race was a dogfight from the break, as, soon after, American Anthem and jockey Mike Smith sped to the lead. Gormley and jockey Victor Espinoza confidently engaged their frontrunning rivals and, while stalking just to the outside of the leader, sat just off the quick early pace of :22.54, :45.46 and 1:10.13 for the first three-quarters of a mile.

As American Anthem led the field into the stretch and slowly started to inch away, Espinoza roused Gormley into action with a couple of taps from the right-handed whip and, under a determined and deliberate stretch run, battled stride for stride to reach even terms on the outside, passing the eighth pole in 1:22.70. At the wire, Gormley was able to get his head in front just in time and stopped the Teletimer in 1:35.89 over a sealed main track labeled “sloppy.”

Gormley left the gate as the public’s 8-5 second choice in the field of seven and was good for $5.20, $2.80 and $2.40. At even money, American Anthem returned $2.60 and $2.20 while Big Hit, who crossed the wire 13 lengths farther back in third, paid $3.60 to show at odds of more than 11-1. The $1 exact was worth $5.40 and the trifecta $20.10.

Bird is the Word, Term of Art and Colonel Samsen rounded out the order of finish after Blabimir was eased before walking off the track under his own power.

“It didn’t surprise me how well he broke out there today,” Espinoza said of his winning trip. “When he’s feeling good, he breaks quickly and already running. In the Breeders’ Cup he broke slow, but today he came into the race in really good shape and got into it right away.

“I expected him to run the way he ran today. I know he’s still improving, but I think he only gets better and better. Hopefully he gets a lot better, but with this race and his next he has a lot of potential to keep growing.”

Trainer John Sheriffs said Jerry and Ann Moss’ Gormley is one who always does everything right, from morning training to afternoon races.

“That was a great race,” Shirreffs said. “He’s still young, you never know what they’re going to do so it’s always interesting. We’re very proud of him.

“He’s quick. He starts quick, he gets away quickly but then he checks himself as he gets into the race and he relaxes. It was great to see him pick it back up again and get it done. Chantal [jockey Sutherland, who works Gormley in the mornings] has given me a lot of confidence in how he’s doing. She’s a rider who really understands what is going on underneath her and is very expressive about it, so she’s been a big help.”

Gormley, who was bred in Kentucky by the partnership of Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate was a $150,000 Keeneland September yearling RNA and subsequently acquired privately by the Mosses. The son of Malibu Moon and the Bernstein mare Race to Urga has now won three of four career starts for earnings of $296,000. He also won the Frontrunner Stakes (GI) in the fall before finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI).

“This type of thing never gets old,” Jerry Moss said. “He’s got a lot of heart and I know he’ll go further than this. Hoh’s doing the right things as usual. This was a beautiful horse race and the fans got a thriller.

“No idea where we’ll run next.”