Six Runners Hope to Get on Derby Trail in Sham Stakes


Top Fortitude is Ellis Starr's pick for the Sham, impressively winning his debut in November (Photo courtesy of Benoit & Associates).

The 14th running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes only drew six entrants but as the first of four graded stakes races at Santa Anita that earn points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, it is an important step toward earning a Derby spot. Ontology won his most recent race and is one of a pair of runners with prior stakes experience. His best effort came last summer when second in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes. Life Is a Joy enters the Sham following a runner-up effort in the King Glorious Stakes for California-breds and won the Carl Palmer Futurity last fall at Fresno on the California fair circuit. Among the rest, Top Fortitude will get a lot of attention off his visually impressive win in his only start. Kristo, I'll Wrap It Up and Midnight Hawk round out the six runners in the Sham, each coming into the race off an impressive maiden victory and, as with many newly turned 3-year-olds, all with a right to improve dramatically from one race to the next.

Top Fortitude not only was visually impressive in his winning debut on Nov. 16, he earned a field-high 98 Equibase Speed Figure for that effort. That is the best last-race figure in the field and stakes quality. With strong likelihood for improvement in only his second career start, there’s little question that Top Fortitude can handle the mile distance today. His dam has produced a slew of winners including multiple graded stakes winner Uh Oh Bango, a full brother to Top Fortitude, who won the 2012 San Pasqual Stakes (to be run later on the card), at Santa Anita. As such, Top Fortitude looks very tough to deny in the Sham.

Ontology took eight tries to break his maiden, finally doing so in his most recent race on Dec. 28. Only two of those starts were in maiden races. The other six all were stakes tries, and he performed admirably in many of them. In only the second start of his career, Ontology finished second in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes. Two races after that, he finished second once again, this time in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes, his first race around two turns. Removing blinkers last month when breaking his maiden decisively, Ontology earned a strong 97 Equibase Speed Figure that is pretty much on par with how fast Top Fortitude ran in his most recent start, giving Ontology a big look at the outcome in the Sham Stakes.

I'll Wrap It Up (89 Equibase Speed Figure last race) just won at 1 1/16 miles, which gives him a bit of an edge over Midnight Hawk (93), who earned his victory last month around one turn at the distance of 7 1/2 furlongs. Kristo won impressively by 6 3/4 with a 90 figure when last seen, but that was 2 ½ months ago and there always is a bit of a question mark when a young horse has to take such a long break after a win. Life Is a Joy earned an 83 Equibase Speed Figure when second in the King Glorious Stakes last month, which appears to be a bit too low to be competitive if most of the others improve at about the same rate. 

My Selections:

Top Fortitude


I'll Wrap It Up

$100,000 Sham Stakes

Saturday, Race 5, Santa Anita, 5:30 p.m. ET

One mile, 3-year-olds






Kristo (KY)

Rafael Bejarano

John Sadler


I'll Wrap It Up (KY)

Tyler Baze

Doug O'Neill


Life Is a Joy (CA)

Corey Nakatani

Jerry Hollendorfer


Ontology (KY)

Mario Gutierrez

Simon Callaghan


Top Fortitude (AZ)

Kayla Stra

Kory Owens


Midnight Hawk (KY)

Mike Smith

Bob Baffert

All assigned 118 pounds.

Blinkers Off: Midnight Hawk

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