The Sham Stakes (Grade III)

This week, continuing coverage of the Derby Trail moves to Santa Anita for the Sham Stakes. 8f — so a bit on the shorter side for these preps — and, of course, on the dirt for 3YO. It’s another 10-4-2-1 points race in the quest for Kentucky Derby points.

On paper, this isn’t the most interesting race. Calculator is the only entrant with Kentucky Derby points so far, and is by far the fastest of this group. He returns to the races off a 3-month layoff following a solid second to American Pharoah in the Frontrunner. I really like him before he was scratched in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile due to foot problems. He’s still a maiden — something that would cause some concern normally, but he’s faced top fields, including running 4th in the key maiden race from this summer, which I rate roughly comparable to a G3:

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Outside of the usual background risk (“no-show,” “racing luck”, etc), there’s are two main risk to a Calculator win today. The first is the layoff — something that his trainer doesn’t excel at — and the general risk of a top 2YO returning and being expected to match previous performances, especially given the injury.

That said, the race, at least on paper, seems to lack a logical contender to challenge Calculator. This doesn’t mean that one of the other horses won’t improve — it’s likely that one of them will. But simply that its very hard to isolate which particular one might be the upstart threat.  Unblunted likely will receive some support — he was impressive here at 7f in October, and if you throw out the artificial surface try, has some solid reason to improve on the return to Santa Anita. Rockinakitten debuts for the D. O’Neil barn. I’ve been pretty bearish on horses coming out of Calder/Gulfstream Park West, so I’ll rely on that in avoiding him today.

Even with the risks, I still see Calculator as a heavy favorite and a fair wager all the way down to 4/5, for those who are willing to play low-favorites (and you should.) Perhaps the public is freaked out by his maiden status and gives a decent price, but I doubt it.

If Calculator wins, he’ll move into a tie for 2nd place in Kentucky Derby points with 14. He’ll no longer be a maiden, and we’ll be anticipating his rematches against the top West Coast contenders in the coming weeks. If he is upset, however, we’ll certainly be talking about a new contender — remember that nobody else in the field has earned any points yet. At the very least, one of these other horses will come away with 4-points — not enough to qualify, but the very beginnings of a campaign that might squeeze you into the gate in Louisville.

Good luck at Santa Anita!