ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Gormley edged American Anthem by a head to win the $100,000 Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita in the kickoff to Kentucky Derby prep season.
The 3-year-old colts dueled through the stretch before Gormley stuck his head in front in a thrilling finish on an overcast day.
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Gormley ran a mile on a track made sloppy by overnight rain in 1:35.89 and paid $5.20, $2.80 and $2.40.
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American Anthem returned $2.60 and $2.20. The colt is handled by a couple of Hall of Famers: trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.
Big Hit was another 13 lengths back in third and paid $3.60 to show.
Smith had American Anthem in the lead for most of the way with Gormley in pursuit. American Anthem broke from the rail, while Gormley came out of the fifth spot in the starting gate.
”For only his second time out, that was pretty impressive,” Smith said. ”If we’d been on the outside, I think that probably would have helped a little bit getting beat a half a nose.”
Gormley was making his first start since finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita in November.
”He’s still young. You never know what they’re going to do so it’s always interesting,” trainer John Shirreffs said. ”He gets away quickly, but then he checks himself as he gets into the race and he relaxes. It was great to see him pick it back up again and get it done.”
Gormley brought more experience into the race than American Anthem. He won his career debut at Del Mar in September and followed it up with a victory in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes on Oct. 1.
”I expected him to run the way he ran today,” Espinoza said. ”I know he’s still improving but I think he only gets better and better.”
American Anthem earned his first win at Del Mar last month. His sire Bodemeister, also trained by Baffert, finished second in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
Bird Is the Word was fourth, followed by Term of Art, Colonel Samsen and Blabimir. Doug O’Neill trains Term of Art and Blabimir.
Gormley earned 10 points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby on May 6. That puts the colt second on the list with a total of 20 points behind first-place Classic Empire, who has 30 and won the BC Juvenile. The points system is used by Churchill Downs to decide the 20-horse field for the Derby.
Gormley is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, who won the 2005 Derby with long shot Giacomo, named for a son of musician Sting. Moss, co-founder of A&M Records, named his newest Derby contender after Sir Antony Gormley, a noted British sculptor.
”This type of thing never gets old,” Moss said. ”He’s got a lot of heart and I know he’ll go further than this. This was a beautiful horse race and the fans got a thriller.”
In other stakes:
– Blue Tone won the $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths in an upset.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Blue Tone ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.82 and paid $15.20 to win.
France-bred Itsinthepost was second and Twentytwentyvision finished third. Ring Weekend, the 8-5 favorite, was fifth in the race that was taken off the turf because of the rain.
– Watch This Cat won the $100,000 Las Cienegas Stakes for fillies and mares by 8 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Corey Nakatani, the 5-year-old mare ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.41 and paid $5.60 and $3.20 at 9-5 odds.
Chile-bred Paquita Coqueta returned $3. Cadet Roni, the 3-2 favorite, was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third.
There was no show wagering because of the four-horse field.
The race was taken off the turf course because of the rain.