April 20, 2024

Gormley’s tactical change works in Santa Anita Derby

Gormley earned his second Grade 1 win in the Santa Anita Derby (Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com)

Jerry and Ann Moss’ Gormley was the only Grade 1 winner going into Saturday’s $1,002,415 Santa Anita Derby (G1), and the John Shirreffs trainee was the only one coming out of it. Thus that simple handicapping angle ended up solving what was an inscrutable 13-horse race on paper.

Yet it wasn’t quite so simple to pinpoint the 6-1 Gormley, since his front-running coup in the FrontRunner (G1) seems like eons ago. Much had transpired in the interim, notably a non-threatening seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and a backpedaling fourth in the San Felipe (G2) on March 11.

It took an astute training job by Shirreffs and his team to transform Gormley from an aggressively forward type to a more relaxed runner. His Kentucky Derby (G1) aspirations depended upon it – and were accordingly revived by the new-look Gormley.

As Battle of Midway argued with American Anthem and Gormley’s stablemate, Royal Mo, through splits of :22.66 and :46.55, regular rider Victor Espinoza had Gormley switched off in a ground-saving position several lengths adrift. By the time the leaders reached the six-furlong mark in 1:10.92, Espinoza had angled Gormley to the outside and began to drive him on. The Malibu Moon colt responded by inching closer rounding the far turn.

At the top of the lane, Battle of Midway had seen off the fading American Anthem and set sail for home. Royal Mo hovered in contention, trying his heart out after covering extra ground from post 13, but could not overtake the dogged pacesetter. Wider out, however, Gormley was gaining traction, first collaring fellow Moss colorbearer Royal Mo and ultimately nabbing Battle of Midway by a half-length.

Gormley assured himself of a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by taking home 100 points, and his 125-point total sits second on the leaderboard to Girvin (150 points). Battle of Midway did himself proud with 40 points in a gritty second, which puts him at number 16 at the moment. Royal Mo’s 20 points for third elevate him to 30 points overall. That still keeps him in 22nd place, pending the results of next Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1) and to a lesser extent, Keeneland’s last-chance Lexington (G3).

Reach the World, who was steadied heading into the first turn, churned on six-wide to grab fourth and earn 10 points. Iliad was beaten only two lengths in fifth as the slight 3-1 favorite, but neither did he rebut the view that he’s more effective going shorter.

From a Kentucky Derby perspective, the Santa Anita Derby’s fast-early/slow-late race shape, and the close proximity of the top five finishers, all render its merits open to debate. Gormley advanced through the slowest part of the race, as Battle of Midway labored to the mile in 1:37.55, and he hit the front not so much with a burst of speed as a steady grind that wasn’t as slow as the rest. Gormley needed :13.61 to finish that last furlong, resulting in a time of 1:51.16 for 1 1/8 miles.

Gormley’s scorecard now stands at 6-4-0-0, $920,000. A flashy debut winner sprinting at Del Mar last summer, the bay handled two turns effectively in the FrontRunner. He had some early trouble in the Breeders’ Cup, and bounced back with a hard-fought decision over American Anthem in the Sham (G3). Freshened for two months, Gormley went retrograde in the San Felipe, where he was airily dismissed by Mastery.

While the Santa Anita Derby result points to the void left by the injured Mastery, Gormley is a well-bred colt eligible to keep progressing. His dam, the stakes-winning Bernstein mare Race to Urga, was just beginning to reach her peak at four. Second dam Miss Mambo, by Kingmambo, was an Irish stakes victress who placed in the 2004 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) (G1) and Prix de Sandringham (G2). Third dam Troika is a daughter of two past Allen Paulson stars, Strawberry Road and Estrapade.

Gormley was bred by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate in Kentucky. The Mosses acquired him privately after he RNA’d for $150,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

Quotes from Santa Anita

Jockey Victor Espinoza on Gormley: “He’s really quick out of the gate and today the plan was to take him back and make him run because it seemed like there was a little bit of speed in the race. I had a little bit of a hard time taking him back but all I had to do was jerk him one time, a bit harder than I wanted, and that’s all it took. He relaxed very nice.

“Down the backside, I started laughing to myself because I knew I was in a good position and I knew all the horses in front of me were going to stop. He showed me he’s capable of going the distance. The only problem is his size; he’s not very big but he’s tough and that’s what I like about him. He works really hard and that’s what it takes.”

Trainer John Shirreffs on Gormley: “I think the key was Espinoza rating Gormley and then making his big move. This is very exciting. It’s thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it’s for the same owners (Jerry and Ann Moss) as Giacomo (the 2005 Kentucky Derby upsetter).

“Gormley is an evolving horse.  He’s very precocious and very excitable.  I just need to turn that energy of his into positive use. It’s a lot of growing pains with a talented horse. I think using the tongue tie certainly helped us today. We’ll see how this shakes out. We’ll see how he comes out of this race in the morning and if all is well, we’ll point to the Kentucky Derby.”

Shirreffs on third-placer Royal Mo: “Royal Mo ran really big. If he had a better post position (than post 13), you wonder how he would have done.”

Co-owner Jerry Moss on finishing first and third: “It’s been such a great time bringing both of these horses up and both came through beautifully today. We’re just so grateful. It’s been a beautiful time.

“It was fantastic to see Royal Mo do so well today. Gary (Stevens) rode him perfectly. He was even the pacesetter for a while. It’s such a great day and we’ll see Gary back on him.

“We’re just delighted. I don’t know what else I can say. I’m out of words.”

Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, the Mosses’ racing manager: “We’re so proud of these horses, you can’t believe it. We’ve known they’ve had talent all along so to see it come to fruition at this stage is just wonderful.

“We hope Royal Mo makes it (to the Kentucky Derby) on points because he deserves to go too! He’s such a nice horse, so that really speaks volumes for our other horse.”

Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer on runner-up Battle of Midway: “I think he ran a pretty good race. If he didn’t get pressured so much early I think we would have won, but that’s how things go. I’m very happy with him. He’s been progressing all along, and if he can continue, he should be a contender.”

Jockey Corey Nakatani on Battle of Midway: “He ran really well. I wish we could’ve gotten a breather at some point, but it didn’t work out that way. He ran dynamite.”