With the cancellation of the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on New Year’s Day, the Sham Stakes now serves as the first Kentucky Derby prep race of 2018. A field of seven hopefuls will line up on Saturday at Santa Anita for the Grade 3 event worth $100,000. Many of California’s best connections will be involved in the inaugural prep. Trainer Bob Baffert will send out two entries (McKinzie and Mourinho), while Jerry Hollendorfer (Shivermetimbers) and Simon Callaghan (All Out Blitz) also have entries.
Any Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita begins and ends with Baffert. The star horse and very likely favorite of this race will be McKinzie. He enters off of a Grade 1 triumph last time out in the Los Alamitos Futurity that came with major controversy, as he won the race via disqualification. His stablemate, Solomini, actually crossed the wire first but was place third after a controversial disqualification call. McKinzie does hold an undisputed victory over the Santa Anita track, having broken his maiden here on debut.
The other Baffert runner is the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes runner-up Mourinho. At the time, the loss in the Bob Hope to was not looked at as favorable, but after the winner Greyvitos triumphed at Remington Park in the Springboard Mile, the effort looks better. Like McKinzie, Mourinho broke his maiden at Santa Anita on debut impressively. He also finished second in the $70,000 Speakeasy Stakes in his second career start.
Hollendorfer will try to match strides with Baffert with his own highly-regarded colt, Shivermetimbers. Despite his goofy name, the 3-year-old son of Shanghai Bobby has shown some talent in three lifetime starts. He finished third in his first two starts behind solid horses, including McKinzie two back at Santa Anita. Last time out, he stretched to a mile after sprinting on debut and defeated Peace in a maiden special weight at Del Mar by a head. Peace came back just last week to win a maiden special weight at Santa Anita going 1 1/16 miles over a pair of good Baffert entries.
The Grade 3 Sham Stakes will go off as race five on Saturday with an approximate local post time of 2:30 PM. From the rail out, the field is comprised of: My Boy Jack, Here Is Happy, All Out Blitz, Mourinho, Shivermetimbers, McKinzie, and City Plan.
#6 McKinzie – This is the horse that Baffert is the highest on entering the Triple Crown season, but he didn’t quite live up to the hype in the Los Alamitos Futurity last time out. Yes, he did “win” the race, but it was via disqualification, and his race was not visually strong. However, there’s no need to panic yet. The Los Al Futurity was just his second career race and his first around two turns. If he’s going to be a serious prospect, then he has to show improvement in this race, but there’s no doubt that he has the ability to do that. It’s a good sign that Baffert has wheeled him back so quickly because it means that he’s working out well and exited his last race well. Also, the removal of blinkers could be a key equipment change, as it should help him relax early on. Even though it’s still very early, this race is a pivotal one for McKinzie. I’m expecting an improved performance that will make him a prime Derby contender, which is why I’ve got him on top.
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#4 Mourinho – Nobody seems to be talking about this Baffert colt right now, but they might be after this race on Saturday. Mourinho was an impressive 4 1/2-length maiden special weight winner on debut at Santa Anita against notable competition, including Peace and Instilled Regard, the eventual Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up. Since that win, the son of Super Saver has finished second in two stakes races, including to Greyvitos in the Bob Hope at Del Mar. Several people have question marks about his ability to stretch out, but a mile should be within his range.
#5 Shivermetimbers – Hollendorfer already has a promising Kentucky Derby hopeful with Instilled Regard, and after Saturday, he could very well have another top prospect. Shivermetimbers stretched out to a mile in his last start, breaking his maiden over Peace. Two races back, he went up against a monster performance by McKinzie, beaten 6 1/4 lengths, but perhaps the stretch out in distance could help him even the score. He’s bred to go long, just like Instilled Regard, which has to have Hollendorfer smiling.
#3 All Out Blitz – The third time was the charm for this son of Concord Point as he broke his maiden at Los Alamitos by a nose. He stretches out in distance here, which should be to his liking, as he’s not bred to be a sprinter. It’s questionable if he’s as good as the top horses in this race, but he is one to think about playing underneath. His biggest selling point at the time was the fact that he beat the highly-regarded Restoring Hope in his maiden special weight victory, until Restoring Hope finished third in his next start, so All Out Blitz’s stock isn’t quite as high now.
#1 My Boy Jack – He’ll try the dirt again after a failed attempt in his debut race way back in June of 2017. Since that race, he’s blossomed into a solid turf horse, winning the $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes and finishing second in three other races. Last time out, he was seventh in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but it’s important to note that he was only beaten by 3 lengths and that jockey Kent Desormeaux dropped the whip in the stretch. His pedigree suggests that he should be able to run well on the dirt, so perhaps his poor first race on the surface was more due to the fact that it was his debut. He’s worth a shot at a big price if you aren’t interested in playing any of the shorter-priced horses.
#7 City Plan – He did pick up a stakes victory in the $75,000 Gold Rush at Golden Gate over a synthetic surface, but his races over dirt leave a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, he’s back on the dirt here, and until he proves that he can run well over the surface, he’s hard to pick in a race of this magnitude.
#2 Here Is Happy – He broke his maiden at Del Mar on debut in a claiming event, and since then, he’s been spotted in stakes races well over his head ever since. This might be the toughest spot yet for him. He’s been gelded since his last start and will really have to step up to get the job done here.