Saturday’s $100,702 Sham S. (G3) at Santa Anita marked the eagerly expected stakes debut of Bob Baffert’s latest hotshot debut winner, Coliseum, who was bet down to 3-5 favoritism. But far from anointing the newcomer, the Kentucky Derby (G1) points race instead validated the established stakes form, as Grade 1-placed Gunmetal Gray passed them all.
Runner-up to Baffert’s presumptive champion Game Winner in the American Pharoah (G1), and further behind him when fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Gunmetal Gray was dispatched as the 7-2 second choice for his Hall of Fame connections. The Jerry Hollendorfer runner picked up Triple Crown-winning rider Mike Smith, and made the most of his class and experience.
Coliseum, in contrast, was trying two turns – and winners – for the first time, and the Tapit colt flubbed it right out of the gate. Once breaking a bit slowly and awkwardly, he found himself out of position. The headstrong sophomore also failed to relax, and never looked like contending in sixth.
Gunmetal Gray, drawn on Coliseum’s right flank in post 6, was bumped by his errant rival. A patient Smith let him regroup in the rear as Savagery reeled off fractions of :23.46 and :46.95 on the fast track.
Baffert’s other entrant, the 7-1 Much Better, took over through six furlongs in 1:11.64 and drew off by daylight in upper stretch. The final furlong was an eternity for the tiring Much Better, though, and he was swept aside late.
The 18-1 Sueno offered a smart rally to catch him between calls, but Gunmetal Gray unloaded last of all to prevail by a length. The winner took 1:38.96 to finish the mile.
Gunmetal Gray’s first stakes victory netted him 10 Derby points, upping his total to 14 and placing him fourth on the leaderboard. Sueno earned 4 points for second, Much Better scored 2 points in third, and Gray Magician received 1 point for running evenly in fourth. Next came Easy Shot at 87-1, followed by Coliseum, who beat only the long-way last Savagery.
A debut fifth to Baffert’s well-touted Roadster sprinting at Del Mar, Gunmetal Gray thrived on the stretch-out to romp going a mile at the same venue. His ensuing Grade 1 efforts were respectable, beating all bar Game Winner in the American Pharoah and rallying from far out of it for fifth in the Breeders’ Cup. The Sham improved his record to 5-2-1-0, $217,200.
Bred by Lee Pokoik in Kentucky, Gunmetal Gray RNA’d for $85,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. At OBS March, the two-year-old in training sold for $225,000 to Lane’s End Bloodstock, agent for West Point and Hollendorfer. Pearl Racing joined them in co-ownership after the American Pharoah.
Gunmetal Gray is by Exchange Rate and out of the Grade 1-placed Include mare Classofsixtythree. Tracing the female line further back, one finds Olden Times, prolific both on track and at stud; Tale of Two Cities, best known as the sire of *Cougar II; and French champion Pharis.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on Gunmetal Gray: “I didn’t expect to be that far back. 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.
“He 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.
“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. Going around two turns and stretching out a little bit farther shouldn’t be a problem.
“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. 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.”
Co-owner and Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer: “Mike knew we wouldn’t be near the lead and we were hoping to get some pace to run at. 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.”