West Point Thoroughbreds, Pearl Racing and Hollendorfer LLC's Gunmetal Gray posted the 7-2 upset in Saturday's Grade 3 Sham Stakes, coming from the rear of the field to pass all six of his sophomore rivals in the stretch and complete one mile over Santa Anita's fast track in 1:38.96. Ridden by Mike Smith for fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 3-year-old son of Exchange Rate hit the wire about a length ahead of 18-1 chance Sueno. The victory earned Gunmetal Gray 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby; the 1-2 favorite Coliseum finished sixth.
“Mike knew we wouldn't be near the lead and we were hoping to get some pace to run at,” Hollendorfer said. “Mike sat back, bided his time and he ran them down. We came back here after the Breeders' Cup and he's really trained well the past two months.”
Favored Coliseum broke awkwardly, forcing Gunmetal Gray off his game plan and to the rear of the field, then stayed wide around the clubhouse turn to be second-last in the early going. Up front, Savagery grabbed the lead to set fractions of :23.46 and :46.95, tracked by Much Better and Gray Magician.
“I didn't expect to be that far back,” said Smith. “I got taken off my game plan a little bit. Coliseum kind of slipped and broke to the right. He really hit me in behind and set me farther back than I wanted to be.
“(Gunmental Gray) got up, got back into the race somewhat and got into a nice, comfortable stride. I figured from that point that he would run well, we just had to be good enough to catch them and he was.”
Down the backstretch, Coliseum was out four-wide on the track while Gunmetal Gray continued to trail the field against the inside fence. Eventual runner-up Sueno made a mid-race move to be fourth at the half under Kent Desormeaux, and seemed to be running in spurts all the way around the course.
Rounding the far turn, Much Better took over from Savagery, but both Sueno and Gunmetal Gray were making outside moves to try to challenge the new leader. Sueno continued to dig in with every third or fourth stride, slowly gaining on Much Better, but it was Gunmetal Gray's sweeping move that saw him home the one-length winner at the wire. Sueno had to settle for second, while Much Better held third over Gray Magician. Easy Shot was fifth, and Coliseum was sixth.
Bred in Kentucky by Lee Pokoik, Gunmental Gray was an $85,000 RNA at the Keeneland September sale, but went under the hammer successfully for $225,000 at the OBS March juvenile sale. The colt broke his maiden at Del Mar in his second start, then ran a distant second to Game Winner in the G1 American Pharoah. Shipped East for the Breeders' Cup, Gunmetal Gray again finished behind Game Winner at Churchill Downs, checking in fifth after traveling well at the rear early on. Overall, the colt has won two of his five starts for earnings of over $200,000.
“I actually worked him his first three-eighths of a mile that he ever worked and I thought a lot of him then, believe it or not,” Smith continued. “I told Jerry to take his time and thought he's the kind that will get better as he gets a little older. He's taking that big step forward but I think he's shown he can get the distance. They'll start separating themselves as these preps go on but at least he took that first step.”
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