Race of the Week: Sham Stakes, by Joe Wulffe

Saturday January 5th: Race 9 at Santa Anita Park. The $100,000 Grade 3 Sham Stakes run at one mile on the dirt for three year olds. (Post Time: 7:04 PM EDT).

Joseph Wulffe

Twitter: @Whtnbourbonguy

 

Selections: 5-6-1

(5) Coliseum: The barn of trainer Bob Baffert sends out this precocious son of Tapit for Godolphin looking to not only step up and compete against graded stakes company in just his second career start but also begin down the path that could potentially lead to a spot in the starting gates at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May as there are Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the line today. Coliseum was an ultra-impressive winner when last seen breaking his maiden back on November 17th at Del Mar. Although he broke slowly in that effort, he was able to seize command of the lead fairly easily, was in control of the pace throughout the race’s entirety, was hand-ridden down the stretch by Joe Talamo, won in gate to wire fashion by nearly seven lengths, and delivered a fantastic gallop out at the end of it all. For his efforts, Coliseum earned a 95 Bris Speed Rating (BSR) which actually ranks as the highest last out speed rating amongst the entire field by five points. However, it should be noted that Coliseum’s performance came over seven furlongs and today he stretches out to eight panels on an unfamiliar track. Yet, his pedigree, Tapit over Menifee, is loaded not only with speed but also a good deal of stamina and thus handling the slight stretchout in distance today should be of no concern. Additionally, although Coliseum is making just his second start today and is quite green compared to his more seasoned rivals, by all accounts he has been responding to his training quite well as over the course of the month of December he posted four exceptionally brilliant works over the main track at Santa Anita.

There is one area of concern for him though and that revolves around his running style. In his only start, Coliseum made for the front from the get go and after that was simply never challenged. Unfortunately such tactics will not work again today as not only are there several other runners in this field who prefer to be forwardly placed as well but also the early speed figures Coliseum posted in that effort indicate that he simply is just not quick enough to be able to withstand dueling with the likes of Savagery and Much Better on the lead. Rather, it would greatly behoove Talamo to get Coliseum to rate behind those two aforementioned runners just a few lengths off of the lead (the TimeForm Pace Projector has indicated a similar pace scenario) and then unleash that brilliant late speed of his as the field turns for home. Such a strategy would allow Coliseum to be able to move up and challenge the likely fading front runners as well as get a jump on his rivals positioned further back in the field. Over the past three years, Baffert has posted some excellent stats not only with runners returning to racing following layoffs of 46-90 days (25% win rate from 211 starts) but also with horses attempting a route distance for the first time (27% win rate from 131 starts). Additionally over the past five years, Baffert has won 33% of the time (14 for 42) when starting a horse in a stakes race following a debut maiden win. Furthermore, over the past 60 days, when Talamo and Baffert have hooked up, Talamo has won with 22% of his mounts for the trainer. Coliseum appears to be the one to beat in this field and could possibly be the best chance Godolphin has ever had of finally securing that elusive Kentucky Derby victory especially if this colt can live up to all the hype and expectations surrounding him. However, do keep in mind that you’re not going to get a price on him (his ML odds are at even money and will dip much lower by post time), so wager accordingly. But also keep in mind that since the Sham Stakes was moved to January, the favorites have gone 6 for 8 and another edition was won by the second betting choice.

 

(6) Gunmetal Gray: The lone entry in this field without a stablemate, this son of Exchange Rate goes out for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer looking to avenge a disastrous performance in his most recent start, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) back on November 2nd at Churchill Downs. In that race, Gunmetal Gray broke poorly and was far back in the field from the get go and after that the race was simply over for him as he had no chance at catching the eventual winner in Game Winner. However, his effort prior to that in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) was much better and if he can find a way to return to that form (when he posted a 92 BSR), he will certainly be competitive here today. Unlike our top selection, Gunmetal Gray not only has experience competing against graded stakes company (in fact today’s race offers some much needed class relief for him) but he also has experience routing. This colt broke his maiden in impressive fashion going a mile at Del Mar back in August and as both over his last two starts were over eight and a half furlongs, the slight cutback in distance should be no issue for him. Furthermore, the projected fast pace scenario for this race should be quite beneficial to his running style.

Gunmetal Gray’s preferred running style is that of a pace-stalker with some good tactical speed. He does not need to drop all the way back to the rear of this field in order to win and he has proven that he can pass horses in the latter stages of races. While the TimeForm Pace Projector has suggested that he will be at the rear of the field by the halfway point of this race, it is quite possible that he could be a bit more forwardly placed and travelling about mid-pack, stalking the leaders with new jockey, Mike Smith, aboard. Look for him to be flying late down the stretch, hoping to blow past fading rivals. Over the course of the past three years, Hollendorfer has done fairly well in conditioning his trainees to run well after returning from layoffs of 46-90 days as he has been winning at an 18% rate (from 608 starts). Additionally, Mike Smith has been absolutely fantastic when riding in route races over the course of the past year as he has won 38% of his last 76 starts. Moreover, it appears that Gunmetal Gray has appreciated the time off from racing and has been training quite well for Hollendorfer as the six furlong work that he posted at Santa Anita back on December 22nd was quite sharp and thus it would appear that this colt is in good form coming into this race. Gunmetal Gray’s experience on this track, against graded stakes company, and racing around two turns could prove invaluable today and therefore he should be considered the most likely contender in this field to score a mild upset should Coliseum falter.

 

(1) Sueno: Trainer Keith Desormeaux sends out this son of Atreides following a win over a mile in the $75K Gold Rush Stakes over the all weather surface at Golden Gate Fields back at the beginning of December. Despite a three month layoff, Sueno was able to rally from fifth and win by a length and a half in that race, albeit he did receive a near perfect trip. For his efforts, he earned an 85 BSR but in order for him to be competitive against this field today, he will need to greatly improve to even merit contender status. However, Sueno has raced on the dirt before (he won an $80K Maiden Claiming race sprinting five and a half furlongs at Del Mar last August) and his dam produced four other horses that were all dirt route winners which should suggest that he can improve going forward. Furthermore, Sueno has drawn an ideal spot along the rail today, which has been winning at a 23% clip thus far in the Santa Anita meet. Additionally, the projected fast pace scenario could work to Sueno’s advantage given his preferred running style.

Sueno is a pace stalker though he does possess fairly good early speed; in fact his most recent Brisnet Early Pace speed figures are amongst the fastest in the field. The TimeForm Pace Projector has suggested that it is likely that Sueno will be travelling mid-pack at the halfway point in this race and given his favorable rail draw, it is even more likely that his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, will have him positioned there throughout the race trying to conserve as much ground as possible in order to get the ideal trip. However, Sueno does not appear to be fast enough to be able to score a major upset in this race against the likes of Coliseum or Gunmetal Gray but he does seem to have enough talent that he could be in contention late to capture a minor award. Keith Desormeaux has done quite well over the past three years with getting his trainees to fire in their second start following a layoff as he has been winning at a 23% rate during that time period. Moreover, brother Kent has been riding fairly well in route races over the course of the past year, winning 19% of his past 83 starts. Additionally, over the past five years, horses that have been trained by Keith and get a rider change to Kent have won 25% of their past 72 starts. Finally, Sueno’s most recent work over five furlongs on the main track at Santa Anita was pretty sharp and should indicate that he is in good form coming into this race. Admittedly, this edition of the Sham Stakes does present a major step up in class for Sueno but if he can handle the challenge and at the very least hit the board, he will certainly reward his backers and at an excellent price too.

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