Trainer John Shirreffs has been teaching Jerry and Ann Moss’ Gormley how to save his energy for the finish, and the homework paid off with a form turnaround in Saturday’s $1,002,415 Santa Anita Derby (G1) – and a ticket to the Kentucky Derby.
Gormley was the most accomplished sophomore in the bulky 13-horse field, having won last year’s FrontRunner (G1) as well as the Sham (G3) in January. But his rubber-legged fourth last time out in the San Felipe (G2) left questions about his Derby candidacy.
Shirreffs, a master at his craft, realized that a pace-prompting style was no longer suiting Gormley quite as well as before. His willing student apparently took those lessons to heart. And the change in tactics came at a good time, for the Santa Anita Derby featured a contentious pace that would have ground the old Gormley up. Instead, he was reserved several lengths off the early pace by Victor Espinoza – within striking range and not too far out of it.
Battle of Midway used his inside post to secure the early lead, only to endure unrelenting pressure from American Anthem and Gormley’s stablemate, Royal Mo. That three-way scrum produced demanding fractions of :22.66, :46.55, and 1:10.92. American Anthem was the first to cry uncle on the far turn, while Battle of Midway stayed on grimly into the lane and Royal Mo remained in pursuit out wide.
Then Espinoza turned Gormley loose, and he caught front-running Battle of Midway by a half-length on the wire. The 6-1 chance negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.16, a final time reflecting that they were all slowing down after that pace.
Royal Mo was a close third, beaten all of a length, in a fine performance from post 13. The Mosses and Shirreffs thereby celebrated a first and third in the Santa Anita Derby.
Reach the World fared best of the Bob Baffert trio in fourth, and tepid 3-1 favorite Iliad wound up fifth for Doug O’Neill. American Anthem beat only one home in 12th.
Gormley improved his record to 6-4-0-0, $920,000, and with his 100-point bonanza, he boosted his Derby point total to 125. Battle of Midway opened his account with 40 points in a valiant second, while Royal Mo (20 points) now has 30 and Reach the World scored 10 points.
Bred by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate in Kentucky, Gormley is by Malibu Moon and out of stakes-winning Race to Urga, by Bernstein. His fourth dam is champion Estrapade, who beat the boys in the 1986 Arlington Million (G1).
Head shot of Gormley cropped from photo by Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com