Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Gunmetal Gray flashed potential as a 2-year-old in 2018, but it was not until his 2019 debut that the gray or roan colt turned in a breakthrough performance. He closed from last to first to win the Grade 3 Sham Stakes by a length on Jan. 5, earning a career-best Equibase Speed Figure and 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system. With 14 points overall, let’s examine his chances to make some noise on the 2019 Triple Crown trail.
Ability: West Point Thoroughbreds and Jerry Hollendorfer purchased Gunmetal Gray for $285,000 out of the 2018 OBS March sale of 2-year-olds in training.
He ran fifth in his career debut in a three-quarter-mile sprint on July 29 at Del Mar, but showed significant improvement when stretching out to a mile for his second start on Aug. 22 at Del Mar. He stalked the pace from fourth early and took charge nearing the stretch en route to a 6 ¾-length romp and a 24-point improvement to a 99 Equibase Speed Figure.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer next tested Gunmetal Gray in stakes competition on Sept. 29 in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes. Using similar stalking tactics, he finished second by 4 ½ lengths to runaway victor Game Winner for a 100 Equibase Speed Figure.
That race was good enough to convince his connections to move on to the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he faced 12 opponents including the aforementioned Game Winner.
In the Juvenile, Gunmetal Gray broke a step slow and dropped back to 11th after the opening quarter-mile and 12th after a half-mile in 46.87 seconds. He made a sustained late rally to pass seven horses but never seriously threatened while running fifth, beaten by 12 ½ lengths and nine lengths behind the third-place finisher. The 82 Equibase Speed Figure for his final start as a 2-year-old was 18 points off the 100 he earned in the American Pharoah Stakes.
Gunmetal Gray made his season debut in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes as the second betting choice in a race that featured a buzz horse named Coliseum from the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Coliseum got off to a poor start and raced in sixth early in the seven-horse field, one spot ahead of Gunmetal Gray, who was last of seven early.
Coliseum’s stablemate Much Better took a clear lead in early stretch but subsequently shortened stride and was no match for fast-finishing Gunmetal Gray, who surged past (along with runner-up Sueno) near the finish line.
The final time for one mile on a track rated fast was 1:38.96 and Gunmetal Gray finished his final eighth of a mile in about 13.30 seconds, which led many analysts to wonder whether the winner was as dominant as he looked or if his stamina simply kicked in while other runners had emptied their gas tanks.
The speed figures were split, with Equibase giving Gunmetal Gray a new career-best 105, while the Beyer Speed Figure (82), TimeformUS figure (103), and BrisNet number (88) were less inspiring.
I liked the way Gunmetal Gray settled in early in the race and how he finished late, specifically the professional way he identified his target and reeled him in deep in the stretch. There is no question he needs to get faster to compete against the best of his division, but we already knew that based upon how he fared twice against Game Winner a few months ago.
“We came back here after the Breeders’ Cup and he’s really trained well the past two months,” Hollendorfer said.
The Sham was a nice start for Gunmetal Gray, and hopefully one he can build upon because he does have ground to make up on the best 3-year-olds.
Running style: After stalking from just off the pace in his first three races, Gunmetal Gray rallied from far back in his two most recent starts. Based upon the result of the Sham, it’s a solid bet he’ll try to employ those closing tactics in his next start and perhaps moving forward on the Triple Crown trail. Closers are dependent upon pace to set up their finishing speed – the faster the better – and must navigate their way through traffic late in races, especially in a 20-horse field for the Kentucky Derby. Gunmetal Gray is not devoid of speed, however, and could race nearer to the pace if necessary.
West Point Thoroughbreds is a racing partnership that was founded by President and CEO Terry Finley, a graduate of West Point and an Army veteran. West Point Thoroughbreds was a co-owner of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and also raced alone or in partnership Grade 1 winners Awesome Gem, Dream Rush, Flashy Bull, Irish Smoke, Lear’s Princess, Macho Again, Ring Weekend, and Twilight Eclipse. West Point has amassed 104 stakes wins and more than $45 million in purse earnings through Jan. 7.
According to Equibase statistics, Gunmetal Gray is the first runner for Pearl Racing.
Hollendorfer is a Hall of Fame trainer whose runners have amassed 7,559 victories and more than $196.4 million in purse earnings through Jan. 7. A three-time Breeders’ Cup winner with 46 career Grade 1 wins, Hollendorfer’s top finish in a Triple Crown race came with Battle of Midway, third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. He has won the Kentucky Oaks three times with Lite Light (1991), Pike Place Dancer (1996), and Blind Luck (2010).
Gunmetal Gray has had three jockeys in five starts with Mike Smith aboard for the Sham. Smith is a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee and a two-time Eclipse Award winner best known for sweeping the Triple Crown in 2018 with Justify, as the regular rider of superstar Zenyatta, and as the leading rider in Breeders’ Cup History with 26 victories in the World Championships. Smith also won the 2005 Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo among his seven victories in Triple Crown races.
Pedigree: Gunmetal Gray is from the penultimate crop of Grade 2 winner Exchange Rate, who died in January 2016. Exchange Rate, by Danzig, won six of 15 starts at distances ranging from five-eighths of a mile to 1 1/16 miles. Exchange Rate is the sire of 94 stakes winners and 43 group or graded stakes winners, including Canadian champion Victory to Victory, multiple Group 1 winner Reckless Abandon, and Grade 1 winners Ermine, Ball Dancing, Sunset Glow, and Swap Fliparoo. He is a versatile sire capable of stakes winners on grass, dirt, and synthetic surfaces as well as sprinting and stretching to middle distances.
Gunmetal Gray gets a nice dose of stamina from his dam (mother), Classofsixtythree, by Include. Classofsixtythree was a winner at 1 1/8 miles and Grade 1-placed at that distance. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Rambling Rose, by Blush Rambler, was a winner at 1 1/16 miles as was his third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Whip Cream, by Vigors. Whip Cream placed in seven stakes, including two graded stakes, on the grass and equaled a course record at Gulfstream Park.
Exchange Rate is a proven sire, and given the stamina influences on the bottom half of this pedigree, Gunmetal Gray could continue to improve as the races get longer. In order to move join the top Derby contenders, he’ll need to finish faster and show speed figure improvement in his next start.