The first step on the 2017 Triple Crown trail in Southern California did not disappoint Jan. 7 at Santa Anita Park.
Reminiscent of several standout races during 2016 in the region, the $100,000, Grade 3 Sham Stakes stretch run featured two horses locked in a duel to the finish line, well clear of the rest of the field.
On Saturday, it was Gormley and American Anthem doing battle in the stretch. The top pair was never more than a length apart in the sloppy one-mile test, but it was Jerry and Ann Moss’ Gormley who narrowly outfinished his opponent won win by a head.
Under the guidance of jockey Victor Espinoza, Gormley broke well from post 5 as American Anthem took the lead from the inside post under jockey Mike Smith. The John Shirreffs-trained Malibu Moon colt was just a length off the leader exiting the turn, cut into the lead heading into the final turn, and moved alongside soon after.
Gormley appeared to put American Anthem away with an eighth of a mile remaining and opened up a half-length advantage, but the Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister colt dug in again on the inside and just lost the photo.
“He’s quick. He starts quick and he gets away quickly, but then he checks himself as he gets into the race and he relaxes,” Shirreffs said. “It was great to see him pick it back up again and get it done.”
Gormley is now in second position behind Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire with 20 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Both of his stakes wins — the Sham and the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes — were worth 10 points to the winner. He finished seventh in the Juvenile, which remains his only loss.
“It didn’t surprise me how well he broke out of there today. When he’s feeling good, he breaks quickly and is already running,” Espinoza said of Gormley, who set the pace in the FrontRunner victory but was caught wide in the Juvenile. “In the Breeders’ Cup, he broke slow, but today he came into the race in really good shape and got into it right away.”
American Anthem set quarter-mile fractions of :22.54, :45.46, and 1:10.13 through three-quarters of a mile, and Smith felt the result may have been different if his colt had outside position, instead of being inside. Gormley finished the mile in 1:35.89.
“For only his second time out, that was pretty impressive,” Smith said of American Anthem, who won his debut by a neck sprinting on Dec. 3 at Del Mar. “If we’d been on the outside ... I think that probably would’ve helped a little bit getting beat a half a nose.”
Big Hit came in third, 13 lengths behind the top two, followed by Bird Is the Word, Term of Art and Colonel Samsen to complete the order of finish.
Gormley, who was bred in Kentucky by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate out of the Bernstein mare Race to Urga, now has $296,000 in earnings.
“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. John’s doing all the right things, as usual. This was a beautiful horse race and the fans got a thriller. No idea where we’ll run next.”