There were three phases to the $100,000 Sham Stakes Jan. 5 at Santa Anita Park.
The first major development happened at the start, as speedy 3-5 favorite Coliseum broke poorly, was last early, and traveled through the first turn rank as he tried to advance.
Then, the infamous “other” Bob Baffert-trained horse, Much Better, got a stalking trip, took command by multiple lengths turning for home, and stopped to a crawl as he ran on the wrong lead in the final furlong.
As all that unfolded, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and second-betting choice Gunmetal Gray relaxed well behind the rest of the field in last, then began to make a move late on the second turn of the one-mile dirt test.
Widest of all in the stretch, the Exchange Rate colt owned by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Pearl Racing, and West Point Thoroughbreds gobbled up ground in the lane and outfinished 18-1 longshot Sueno at the wire, winning by a length in a final time of 1:38.96. Much Better tired harshly late and finished third, another three-quarters of a length back.
Coliseum came in sixth of seven, beaten 4 1/4 lengths by the winner, behind Gray Magician and Easy Shot, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
“I didn’t expect to be that far back,” Smith said of his trip, as Gunmetal Gray was 6 3/4 lengths behind early leader Savagery, who set fractions of :23.46 and :46.95 through a half-mile. “I got taken off my game plan a little bit. Coliseum kind of slipped and broke to the right. He really hit me in behind and set me farther back than I wanted to be.
“[But] he got up, got back into the race somewhat, and got into a nice, comfortable stride. I figured from that point that he would run well. We just had to be good enough to catch them, and he was.”
The Sham was the first stakes win for Gunmetal Gray, who finished second to undefeated Game Winner in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes and fifth to the same colt in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He picked up 10 points for the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings with the score.
“Mike knew we wouldn’t be near the lead, and we were hoping to get some pace to run at,” Hollendorfer said. “Mike sat back, bided his time, and he ran them down. We came back here after the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s really trained well the past two months.”
Bred in Kentucky by Lee Pokoik out of the Include mare Classofsixtythree, Gunmetal Gray now has two wins and a second from five starts and $217,200 in earnings. The gray colt was a $225,000 purchase by West Point and Hollendorfer from Brick City Thoroughbreds’ consignment to the 2018 Ocala Breeders’ Sales March Sale of 2-year-olds in training.