Welcome to the New Year. The trail to the 138th Kentucky Derby has begun at the The Derby Post and we commence with the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
Inaugurated in 2001, this official G3 Derby Prep is named in honor of one of the greatest 3 year olds to never win a Triple Crown race. After his triumphant victory in the 1973 Santa Anita Stakes, Sham moved on to the Kentucky Derby where he met a challenge that no other horse would choose; Secretariat. Because of his gutsy 2nd place finishes to Big Red in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Sham will quite possibly be remembered as: The Greatest Second Best. Although their rivalry was one-sided, Sham still holds one of the top 4 fastest times in Kentucky Derby history (Behind Secretariat, Monarchos, and Northern Dancer).
Last year the Sham Stakes was raced in January at a distance of 1 Mile for the very first time after previously being run in March at 1 1/8 Mile. With its new format the race sets up perfect for 3 yr olds coming off of strictly sprints in their 2-year-old campaign.
The change is a great fit for the expected Sham Stakes favorite Secret Circle. Trained by Bob Baffert, Secret Circle was entered into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint because he wasn’t ready for the Juvenile distance of 1 1/16. Well played Mr. Baffert. Secret Circle headed straight to the front and didn’t let anyone pass en route to a 1 length victory in the 6 Furlong sprint. The win capped off a healthy 2-year-old season where Secret Circle finished 3 for 3, all sprints at 5 ½ or 6 Furlongs.
Moving him up in distance this early tells me what Baffert and Owner Mike Pegram think about their derby hopes for Secret Circle. Highly watched as a sprinter this colt has yet disappoint so don’t be surprised if he comes out of his 1 mile debut with a new group of followers.
Every Derby winner has got their own unique story behind their road to the roses. Plenty of those include a horse that converted successfully from a sprinter to a 2 turn veteran. Secret Circle’s attempt to follow that road begins on Saturday with Rafael Bejarano returning in the irons for his fourth consecutive ride.
Set to challenge Secret Circle is a horse that has already proved his distance, winning once and finishing in the money at 1 1/16. Longview Drive enters after running 3rd in the G3 Delta Downs Jackpot on November 19th. Before that was his biggest score – 1st, Charlie Palmer Futurity, Oct. It will be his debut on a major track so it is also expected that this will be the toughest competition he has yet to face. However, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer (newly inducted into the Hall of Fame last August) and Joel Rosario up, this colt could be ready to make his splash in the 2012 Kentucky Derby Preps.
Another likely contender that has already had his first attempt at graded stakes races is 3 yr old colt Handsome Mike. This good-looking feller made his graded stakes debut on Thanksgiving weekend when he finished 2nd over a Mile in the G3 Generous at Hollywood Park. 20 days later he returned to Hollywood for his Grade 1 unveiling in the CashCall Futurity. Unfortunately, the move up in class and distance, 1 1/16, didn’t make Handsome Mike look so good – 7th. Maybe this young stallion will get his swag back when he returns to Santa Anita. It was here that he scored a 6 ½ Furlong Maiden win in October.
2012 Sham Stakes | 1 Mile | Dirt | Grade 3 Stakes | Purse $100,000
|1||Senor Rain||J. Talamo||P. Miller||Blk-Off||L|
|2||Out of Bounds||G. Gomez||E. Harty||–|
|3||Hierro||J. Leparoux||S. Asmussen||–||L|
|4||Secret Circle||R. Bejarano||B. Baffert||Blk-Off||L|
|5||Longview Drive||J. Rosario||J. Hollendorfer||Blk-On||L|
|6||Handsome Mike||C. Nakatani||D. O’Neill||–||L|
And so the excitement begins. 1 Mile can be a very decisive distance this early which makes this race a great place for us to begin the 2012 derby prep season. The road to the first Saturday in May is longer than the amount of days it will take to get there but count on it – We’ll be here, Stride for Stride.
Written by: Little Brink