A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a Moss hoss gathers points to the Kentucky Derby.
That's what happened yesterday, when a pair of three-year-olds owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley and third-place finisher Royal Mo, earned 100 and 20 qualifying points, respectively, for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
Both will wind up in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the mile and a quarter classic if all is well, and as of Sunday, all systems were go.
“They looked good this morning,” said John Shirreffs, who trains the colts. “They ran just like we had hoped and we're happy to be going to the Derby again.”
The Mosses and Shirreffs won the 2005 Run for the Roses with 50-1 shot Giacomo, who finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby.
Gormley, ridden by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinoza, had an ideal trip in the mile and an eighth race, tracking the three pacesetters, Battle of Midway, Royal Mo and Midnight Pleasure, early on, making a four-wide bid in mid-stretch and prevailing by a half-length.
The first four in the field of 13, Gormley, Battle of Midway, Royal Mo and Reach the World, finished a half length apart from each other, a total of two lengths separating the quartet.
Royal Mo, breaking from the extreme outside post position, took the worst of it, going five wide early but continuing gamely despite Gary Stevens losing his whip inside the 16th pole.
“It was an excellent race for him,” Shirreffs said of the bay son of Uncle Mo. “He was wide from a bad post position. I thought he ran super.”
Having already captured the Kentucky Derby with a rank outsider at 50-1, Shirreffs was unconcerned that his two horses could be lost in a milieu of contenders in what now looms a wide open race, what with unbeaten and ill-fated Mastery on the sidelines.
“They don't know their odds,” he said.
Gary Stevens could be sitting pretty in a bid for his fourth Kentucky Derby victory, gaining an 11th-hour mount on Royal Mo when trainer John Shirreffs called an audible less than a week before Saturday's Santa Anita Derby and decided to run the colt after he worked to his satisfaction last Monday.
Stevens finished a very eventful third on Royal Mo in the Santa Anita Derby, beaten only a length by stablemate Gormley. Now it's on to Kentucky and the Run for the Roses on May 6.
“It was a tremendous effort,” said Stevens, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1988 on the filly Winning Colors, in 1994 on Tabasco Cat, and in 1997 on Silver Charm.
“I usually don't pay much attention to Trakus, but I think it said 64 feet (wide) or something, and we were going in the gate and I'm thinking, 'My God, I'm a long ways out here.' I was right on the crest of the crown on the track, and I'm thinking if there were 14 horses they'd be standing lopsided.
“I was just hoping I got away good and I did. If we'd have drawn down inside, I still would have had to send him, but not like I did to clear. I got over to the three path by the time we hit the (first) turn, and it takes a hell of an athlete to be able to do that.
“He's got an unbelievable high cruising speed. We didn't come home that fast (the last eighth in 13.61) but nobody else did, either. Royal Mo reminded me a lot of Silver Charm. He's got fight. He didn't act like he was going to run by Hollendorfer's horse (Battle of Midway).
“He seemed like he was pretty content. When Victor (Espinoza on Gormley) went by me, he knocked the whip out of my hand and I thought, 'God, I need this thing,' but my horse re-engaged with Gormley and I thought I was going to run second.
“Corey (Nakatani, on Battle of Midway) came out and Victor came in ever so slightly, so I got crowded pretty good the last 50 yards and it might have cost me second, and it would have been great if I finished second, because we'd automatically be in (the Kentucky Derby) now with those points (40).
“I really like what I felt, a lot like I did with Silver Charm. I lost a battle yesterday but I might have won the war, because he put in a hell of an effort, got a lot of fitness, and a lot of schooling out of it.”
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