Trainer John Shirreffs always thought Jerry and Ann Moss' Gormley was capable of stalking the pace on the racetrack before pouncing to take command.
But when faced with a challenge during a race, he couldn't settle. When he had everything to his liking, the Malibu Moon colt flashed talent, winning the FrontRunner Stakes and Sham Stakes over the past six months. And when things didn't go his way, he would fail to give much of an effort, finishing seventh in last November’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a distant fourth in his most recent start in the San Felipe Stakes.
However, in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby, Southern California’s marquee prep race for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Gormley showed a different dimension. Aided by a furious, three-way speed battle on the front end between Battle of Midway, American Anthem, and Royal Mo, Gormley made a well-timed move under Victor Espinoza and outlasted his rivals to win the $1 million Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita Park and secure enough points to land a spot in the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
During the first half-mile, Gormley settled in fifth near the front of the second flight, well behind the early leaders. The fractions went in :22.66, :46.55, and 1:10.92 through six furlongs, with Battle of Midway holding a slim edge over Royal Mo and American Anthem. Those three continued to duel through the far turn, and when Espinoza asked Gormley to improve, he joined the fray.
After a tiring stretch run, Gormley hit the wire a half-length ahead of a determined Battle of Midway. Royal Mo finished another half-length back in third, followed by Reach the World and 3-1 favorite Iliad.
"He's really quick out of the gate, and today the plan was to take him back and make him run, because it seemed like there was a little bit of speed in the race," Espinoza said. "I had a little bit of a hard time taking him back, but all I had to do was jerk him one time – a bit harder than I wanted – and that's all it took. He relaxed very nice. Down the backside, I started laughing to myself, because I knew I was in a good position and I knew the horses in front of me were going to stop."
Battle of Midway and Royal Mo did hang in tough – albeit through a :13-and-change final furlong – but they could not hold off Gormley, who finished 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.16, the slowest Santa Anita Derby time since 1956, when Terrang won the race in 1:51 flat.
"I think the key was Espinoza rating Gormley and then making his big move," Shirreffs said. "This is very exciting. It's thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it's for the same owners as Giacomo. Royal Mo [also owned by the Mosses] ran really big. If he had a better post position, you wonder how he would have done.
"Gormley is an evolving horse. He's very precocious and very excitable. I just need to turn that energy of his into positive use."
Bred in Kentucky by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate, out of the Bernstein mare Race to Urga, Gormley has four wins from six starts and $920,000 in earnings. He earned 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with the win, bringing his total to 125 and placing him in second behind Girvin on the updated leaderboard after an active day which also saw Irish War Cry win the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets and California shipper Irap score an upset win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
"It's been such a great time bringing both of these horses up and both came through beautifully today," Jerry Moss said. "We're just so grateful. It's been a beautiful time. ... We're just delighted. I don't know what else I can say. I'm out of words."