The 20th running of the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes is the first of four local races for budding Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve hopefuls, a sequence that also includes the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and San Felipe Stakes before the finale, the Santa Anita Derby in April. Six horses were entered for this year's Sham with five coming into the race off a victory. The only one of the group with prior stakes experience is Zimba Warrior, who enters the race off a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at seven furlongs in November. Two horses — Taishan and Azul Coast — enter the race off wins at this one-mile trip in maiden company. Scoring lost by a head in his only start, in June, but was placed first via disqualification of the winner. Uncaptured Hero and Authentic both won sprints on the same date, Nov. 9, at Del Mar, and hope to stretch out and step up to get on the radar of early Derby hopefuls.
Scoring will be my top choice to win this year's Sham Stakes, although the 87 Equibase Speed Figure he earned winning his only start in June (via disqualification) is well behind the best figures of some of the others in this race. Still, there are a number of reasons to like his chances. First among those reasons is he's six months older and very likely bigger and stronger physically. Additionally, in that race Scoring showed more maturity than many first-time starters in relaxing in the early stages then rallying from third to miss by a head at the finish line. Better still, the pedigree information provided by STATS Race Lens tells me Scoring is bred to relish running in a route like this one-mile race. His dam, High Heeled Hope, has produced six foals. Three are dirt route winners. Another, Lady T N T, is a full sister, her sire also being Justin Phillip, and she won more than $300,000, including the Charles Town Oaks, a seven furlong two-turn race. Additionally, the sons and daughters of Justin Philip have an excellent record overall in routes (32-for-159 over the past two years) on dirt, which is another factor in believing Scoring is going to improve enough off a six-month rest to win the Sham Stakes.
Taishan stretched out to two turns to win in November in his second career start. The 99 speed figure is the best figure earned my any horse in the field. Logically, that effort and figure should improve in the horse's third career start and second route. Taishan showed maturity in the win when rating in third of six in the early stages before drawing off by a length. Although sons and daughters of his sire, Twirling Candy, have a poor 3-for-32 record in dirt route stakes for 3-year-olds over the years, one of those was a top 3-year-old in 2016, Danzing Candy, who won the San Felipe Stakes that year. Richard Baltas trains Taishan and also Uncaptured Hero, whose career-best 82 speed figure from a November win is the lowest among this group. If Taishan runs as he did in his maiden victory, he could be in a great spot in second or third once again behind his stablemate, who is the probable pacesetter, and can win his second one-mile race in a row.
Authentic is trained by Bob Baffert, who won this race two years ago with McKinzie and two years before that with Collected. Baffert also saddles Azul Coast, who earned a 91 Equibase Speed Figure while winning his only start. I prefer Authentic as a contender, who has a 97 figure to improve upon from his only start in November. Sitting off the pacesetter by a half-length in that race, Authentic made a quick move on the turn to pass and be in front by 1 ½ lengths with an eighth of a mile to go before coasting home by that same margin. As a son of top sire Into Mischief, whose foals won four dirt route stakes in 2019 and who placed in six others from 25 starts, Authentic appears to be another strong contender in this year's Sham Stakes.
Zimba Warrior rounds out the field, with 90 and 89 figures in his last two starts, neither effort appearing good enough to compete with the best in this field.
My Selections in order of preference: