Midnight Hawk and Top Fortitude, impressive debut winners at Hollywood Park, head a short field in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Sham at Santa Anita. The 1 1/16-mile test serves as the first graded event of 2014 for Kentucky Derby hopefuls out west and five of the six entrants are exiting maiden tallies.
As part of the "Prep Season" portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring system, the Sham will award points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.
Midnight Hawk was bet down to 6-5 favoritism in a 7 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Hollywood on December 13 and the son of Midnight Lute did not disappoint his many supporters, drawing away to a 6 1/4-length decision. The gray colt has recorded consecutive bullet works in advance of his stakes debut, including a five-furlong drill in :58 2/5 on Monday.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Midnight Hawk will run with "blinkers off" in his second career start. That's a positive move for his Hall of Fame conditioner, who wins at a 36 percent clip when removing the headgear (from a 73-race sample), and Mike Smith will retain the mount on the promising sophomore.
Top Fortitude will also receive support in the wagering after an eye-catching victory in his lone appearance, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Hollywood on November 16. The Kory Owens-trained colt displayed a dynamic turn of foot leaving the far turn to gain the lead and coasted to the finish line much the best, registering a field-best 99 BRIS Speed rating for the 2 3/4-length score. Kayla Stra will be back aboard the chestnut.
An Arizona-bred son of Top Hit, Top Fortitude hails from the noted producer French Debutante. Her first foal, EZ Dreamer, won seven stakes, and Top Fortitude is a full brother to Grade 2 winner Uh Oh Bango. He also counts Arizona stakes winner French Hit and California stakes runner-up Top Debutante as siblings.
Kristo will make his stakes bow for John Sadler following a 6 3/4-length maiden win at Hollywood Park on October 31. The Distorted Humor colt was making his third career start that afternoon, but it was his first attempt at two turns. Rafael Bejarano guides. Doug O'Neill will send out I'll Wrap It Up, who posted a 3 3/4-length triumph when making his fifth career outing on December 7. The gray son of Tapit receives a rider switch to Tyler Baze.
Ontology didn't fire when trying dirt in the Grade 1 Frontrunner, checking in eighth, but he was still a maiden. A multiple stakes-placed son of Tapit, the chestnut colt is exiting a confidence-building maiden turf win on December 28 and trainer Simon Callaghan is hoping for an improved showing on the surface switch. Life Is a Joy, who exits a non-threatening second in the December 22 King Glorious for California-breds, rounds out the field.