Everyone had pretty much conceded the first Kentucky Derby points race to one of Bob Baffert deep stable of 3-year-olds. And, in fact, his latest prized colt, Coliseum, had a lot to do with who won Saturday’s Grade 3 $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.
Just not in a way that was expected.
Gunmetal Gray, a talented colt who last ran fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, entered the stretch sixth in the seven-horse field and accelerated down the lane to win the one-mile race by a widening length.
All the expectations were on Coliseum, who was bet down to 60 cents on the dollar, but he turned out to be a bad actor in only his second lifetime race. He was fractious in the paddock walking ring, often rearing up on two hooves. Then once the race started, things didn’t get any better.
“Coliseum seemed to slip and really veer right [out of the gate],” said Mike Smith, who rode Gunmetal Gray. “When he did that, he caught me in behind for a couple jumps, which really got me out of position. Then, Coliseum got up there and made the pace move the second quarter, which I was comfortable with, so I knew it was going to set up for a horse that would finish and it did.”
Gunmetal Gray paid $9.40, $4.80 and $3.40 as the second favorite. Sueno was second, Much Better finished third, followed by Gray Magician, Easy Shot, Coliseum and Savagery.
Winning trainer and part-owner Jerry Hollendorfer has always thought highly of the colt, a $225,000 purchase, even though he had won only one of his four races.
“He sat back there and bided his time and got a big trip coming around and ran [the other horses] down.” Hollendorfer said. “We’ve been running him in some pretty tough spots, [but now] he’s been home for a while and training well here the last two months.”
Hollendorfer said he has a lot of options for the colt’s next race, although he didn’t specify what they were.
In Saturday’s other graded stakes, favored Next Shares won by the slimmest of noses in the Grade 2 $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes for older horses going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Cleopatra’s Strike was second and Liam The Charmer was third. Next Shares paid $5.20, $3.60 and $2.80 for trainer Richard Baltas. Jockey Geovanni Franco was substituting for Joel Rosario, who was sick and taken off all his mounts Saturday.
The finalists for the Eclipse Awards were announced Saturday with very few surprises. As expected, the three finalists for horse of the year were Justify, who should also win the 3-year-old male award; Accelerate, who should win the older male horse award; and Monomoy Girl, who should win the 3-year-old filly award.
Justify and Accelerate were based at Santa Anita. Justify was retired after becoming the 13th winner of the Triple Crown. Accelerate will run one more time in the Pegasus World Cup before retiring at the end of January. He also won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Baffert has won the Eclipse Award for top trainer four times, last in 2015. He’s a finalist this year along with East Coast-based Steve Asmussen and Chad Brown. Baffert trains six Eclipse Award-nominated horses representing eight entries: Justify (horse of the year, 3-year-old male), Marley’s Freedom (older dirt female, female sprinter), Game Winner (2-year-old male), Improbable (2-year-old male), McKinzie (3-year-old male) and Abel Tasman (older dirt female).
Other Southern California-based nominees include: Bellafina (2-year-old female), City Of Light (older dirt male), Unique Bella (older dirt female), Roy H (male sprinter), Stormy Liberal (male sprinter, male turf horse).
Bellafina runs at Santa Anita on Sunday in the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes over seven furlongs.
In other human nominations, Smith is up for the jockey Eclipse Award and Kosta and Pete Hronis in the ownership category.