The Grade 3 Sham Stakes kicks off the 2017 Road to the Derby, not just the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May but also the Santa Anita Derby one month earlier. Hope springs eternal among the field of seven and with five having won their most recent races there are number of ways to go. Leading the field in terms of recent wins in stakes is recent Grade 3 Cecil B. DeMille Stakes winner Term of Art. However, Gormley may attract more attention as he won the Grade 1 Frontrunner Stakes in October before a seventh place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Colonel Samsen won the Gold Rush Stakes on an all-weather surface last month and may be a contender. It wouldn't be a Southern California Derby prep without a runner from the potent Baffert barn and that one comes in the form of recent maiden winner American Anthem. Big Hit is another horse that won his most recent start, as did Blabimir. Bird is the Word rounds out the field.
Term of Art started his career in a sprint and finished third, then improved nicely to a runner-up effort in his first route. Following a maiden win with an 82 Equibase Speed Figure in his third career start, Term of Art tried his luck in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was a well-beaten ninth. Entered in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at the end of November, originally scheduled for grass, Term of Art stayed in the race when moved to dirt and won convincingly although his figure did diminish to 77. The key to predicting how Term of Art may perform in the Sham may be how DeMille runner-up Vending Machine improved as that colt won the Eddie Logan Stakes with a 98 figure. Given that Term of Art leads the field in route wins with two and has won a grade 3 stakes like this one, he gets top billing to win this year's Sham Stakes.
Big Hit didn't run that well in the first two starts of his career, the first a sprint and the second a route, but the light bulb really went off in his third start. He earned a 96 figure leading from start to finish in that effort on November 19 and has been rested since. If there were any doubts about Big Hit repeating or improving off the effort, those were put to rest by his two most recent workouts, the first being the best of 112 on the day and the most recent the second best of 76. Although Big Hit led from start to finish in his last win, he may not need the lead as his Equibase pace figure/Speed Figure combination (86/96) suggests he can sit off the pace of likely early leader Blabimir (who is stretching out from sprints) and take over before Term of Art makes his late run, perhaps holding on to win.
American Anthem showed a lot of maturity winning with a rally from fourth in his debut last month, earning the best last race figure (101) in the field. Although the third horse returned to win, that horse's figure regressed five points (93 to 88). However, with the ground saving rail and likely to improve on the stretch out to two turns for the first time, American Anthem must be considered a contender, if for no other reason than his trainer, Bob Baffert, has won the Sham 2 of the last three years.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Bird Is the Word (95), Blabimir (86), Colonel Samsen (98) and Gormley (104).
Term of Art
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