I have grown suspicious about the Sham (GIII). In Derby terms, it never grades out well.
Last year’s winner, Collected, won a few minor sophomore races but been invisible since a tenth-place finish in the Preakness. (And, we won’t even begin with my Let’s Meet in Rio-mania.) Calculator is back on the worktab, but has raced sparingly and not won since his maiden-breaker in the 2015 Sham. Midnight Hawk showed flashes of excellence in the 2014 Illinois Derby (GIII) and the 2015 Razorback (GII), but tumbled into the claiming ranks and pulled up lame after his last start in October.
As befits a one-mile race, the best recent winners have turned out to be milers. Goldencents (2013) won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) twice (2013-2014), and Tapizar (2011) scored in the 2012 Breeders’ Dirt Mile (GI) as well.
The only Sham winner who made their mark at the Classic distance was Colonel John (2008), but even he did not win one of the Triple Crown races. His triumph came that summer in the Travers.
Despite that loud voice in my head telling me to toss that race like a hot potato, I am getting excited about Gormley, winner of yesterday’s Sham.
Will he get a mile and a quarter? I don’t know. He is by Malibu Moon, who has already sired a Derby winner in Orb. His dam never raced, and is by Bernstein out of a classy turf miler. But, looking far enough back in her pedigree shows some stamina. Her fourth dam is Arlington Million winner Estrapade, and Estrapade produced Rice, who did his best at a mile and three eighths.
Back to Gormley, though. I love a horse who has the things you can’t teach. I love horses who can squeeze through openings, who can come back when headed. I love horses with an iron will to win.
After watching the Sham, I think Gormley has that will.
He broke well, and affixed to American Anthem’s flank as he sent from the rail. As American Anthem edged away from the field, Gormley stayed at his side. They set an honest pace for the mile: 22:54 for the quarter, 45:46 for the half.
Big Fix began to advance into the far turn, and American Anthem let it out another notch. Gormley refused to let him escape. He made his run, and headed American Anthem turning for home.
American Anthem was not done. Heading to the eighth pole, the sixteenth pole, American Anthem came back on Gormley. He got his head in front in the final sixteenth.
Gormley would not let that stand. He found one final burst of speed, pushed forward again, and hit the wire a head in front. That fight, that ability to come back on the horse who headed him after a protracted duel? If a horse has that, they have my eye.
We will see whether liking a horse from the Sham turns out folly or not, but for right now, Gormley is on my Derby radar. He may not be on top (we do have Classic Empire in the picture, after all), but he made me take a look once again at a race I was done with.