Fresh off a 12 ½ length drubbing in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 2, Jerry Hollendorfer’s Gunmetal Gray served notice he could be a top tier Derby candidate on Saturday at Santa Anita, as he rallied from last to take the Grade III, $100,000 Sham Stakes by one length. Ridden by Mike Smith, the gray or roan colt by Exchange Rate got a flat mile in 1:38.96 while picking up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Taken in hand while last in the run-up the backside and around the far turn, Gunmetal Gray was caught six-deep turning for home and overtook longshot Sueno late to win under wraps, providing him with his first stakes win in his fifth start.
“I didn’t expect to be that far back,” said Smith, who was about 6 ½ lengths off the lead at the quarter pole. “I got taken off my game plan a little bit. Coliseum (3-5 favorite) kind of slipped and broke to the right. He really hit me in behind and set me farther back than I wanted to be…I learned that distance shouldn’t be a problem, which is very important. The best part of his race was certainly the last part of it.”
Second to eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Game Winner two starts back in the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes here on Sept. 29, Gunmetal Gray, who is out of the Include mare Classofsixtythree, was off at 7-2 in a field of seven sophomores and paid $9.40, $4.80 and $3.40.
A $225,000 Ocala Sales 2-year-old in Training Sale purchase this past March, Gunmetal Gray is owned by Hollendorfer, LLC, Pearl Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds. With his mark standing at 5-2-1-0, he bagged $60,000 for the win, increasing his earnings to $217,200.
2019 Sham Stakes Replay
“Mike knew we wouldn’t be near the lead and we were hoping to get some pace to run at,” said Hollendorfer. “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.”
With trainer Keith and jockey Kent Desormeaux teaming with longshot Sueno, they nearly pulled off a major upset as Sueno edged by Much Better late but was no match for the winner. Off at 18-1, Sueno, who finished three quarters of a length clear of Much Better, paid $9.60 and $5.20.
Ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, Much Better was cast in the role of the “other Baffert,” as his stablemate, Coliseum was off at 3-5. Much Better pressed the early pace, took the lead a furlong out, but faltered late to finish third by 1 ¼ lengths over Gray Magician.
Off at 7-1, Much Better paid $5.00 to show.
Coliseum, a 6 ¾ length maiden winner in his lone start at seven furlongs Nov. 17 at Del Mar, was away tardily and appeared a bit out of sorts while four-deep into and around the far turn and although he was never a threat for the win, was beaten less than 4 ½ lengths while running sixth with Joe Talamo up.
Fractions on the race were 23.46, 1:11.64 and 1:24.86.