With five Kentucky Derby wins, Bob Baffert sits one short of tying Ben Jones for the most all-time. The Hall of Fame conditioner holds a strong hand of contenders entering 2019 and has a promising maiden winner for Saturday’s $100,000 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita, California’s first Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier of the New Year.
A total of 17 points will be awarded to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) toward a berth in the first leg of the American Triple Crown.
Coliseum was touted as a colt to watch before his career unveiling at Del Mar in mid-November and the gray Tapit colt rolled to an easy win as expected, generating an excellent 95 BRIS Speed rating for the 6 3/4-length decision. The Godolphin homebred led wire-to-wire as the 1-2 choice.
Out of the Grade 1-winning Menifee mare Game Face, Coliseum will make his two-turn debut in the one-mile Sham. He’s posted six workouts in the 49-day interim since his lone start, including three consecutive six-furlong bullet moves, and Joe Talamo retains the mount on the probable Sham favorite.
Baffert also has Much Better, a turf stakes runner-up who will switch back to the main track after a disappointing last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). Drayden Van Dyke rides the $600,000 son of Pioneerof the Nile.
Gunmetal Gray will attract support. A 6 3/4-length maiden winner when trying two turns in his second start, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trainee followed with a runner-up finish to Game Winner in the American Pharoah (G1). He was too far back in the early stages of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and rallied past more than half the field to be a non-threatening fifth. Hall of Famer Mike Smith takes over the reins on the gray Exchange Rate colt.
Gray Magician jumps to stakes competition after recording a 9 1/2-length maiden win on November 24. After placing in his first three starts, the Graydar colt was transferred to Peter Miller before his last race and keeps leading rider Flavien Prat in the irons. Miller will also send out the front-running Savagery. Runner-up in the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) two back, Savagery adds blinkers after weakening to be a well-beaten fourth in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).
Completing the field are a pair from the Keith Desormeaux shedrow: Sueno, who exits a win in the December 1 Gold Rush on Golden Gate Fields’ Tapeta track; and last-out maiden claiming scorer Easy Shot.
A couple of races earlier on the program, 10 turf horses will square over 1 1/8 miles in the $200,000 San Gabriel (G2). Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) winner Chicago Style has been installed as the slight 3-1 morning line favorite and Van Dyke will be up for Tom Proctor.
Next Shares and Liam the Charmer didn’t fare well in Breeders’ Cup, beating one horse respectively in the Mile (G1) and Turf (G1), but the geldings are eligible to run better in this spot. Next Shares captured the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) two back and Richard Baltas has tabbed Joel Rosario as a new rider. Liam the Charmer is a four-time winner on the Santa Anita turf, including the John Henry Turf Championship (G2) two back, and Kent Desormeaux picks up the assignment for Mike McCarthy.