Gormley raced on the front end in his first three wins but after getting burnt chasing the pace in the San Felipe (G2) on March 11, the 3-year-old switched to a reserved run style in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1). The change in tactics resulted in a Kentucky Derby berth as Gormley rallied to prove best late.
Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinoza was up for owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs. The same owner/trainer connections won the 2005 Kentucky Derby with 50-1 longshot Giacomo and are best known for the legendary Zenyatta.
The pace was hot in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, with Battle of Midway registering BRIS E1 and E2 Pace ratings of 114 and 122 as he dueled for the lead from the start. Gormley rated more than five lengths off the early pace and advanced into contention through the far turn.
The bay son of Malibu Moon closed four-wide off the far turn and overhauled runner-up Battle of Midway in deep stretch, edging away to a half-length decision.
“I think the key was Espinoza rating Gormley and then making his big move,” Shirreffs said. “This is very exciting. It’s thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it’s for the same owners as Giacomo.
“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.”
Gormley jumped to second on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, adding 100 points to his tally. He picked up 10-point prizes winning the FrontRunner (G1) last fall and Sham (G3) on January 7, and also garnered 5 points finishing a well-beaten fourth in the San Felipe.
He turned things around nicely and the last three Kentucky Derby winners were based in Southern California. However, Gormley will need further improvement to challenge at Churchill Downs on May 6, registering only a 99 BRIS Speed rating. It was the slowest Santa Anita Derby (1:51.16 final time) in 60 years.