There are few Kentucky Derby prep races as young as the Sham (G3) at Santa Anita, first held in 2001 and named after Secretariat’s famous Triple Crown rival. At the same time, few preps in the same class as the Sham have been as successful at producing Derby starters and high-quality horses.
By awarding 17 Kentucky Derby qualification points to the top four finishers, including 10 to the winner, the Sham has cemented its position as a coveted early-season target for California’s top 3-year-olds.
Originally held over 1 1⁄8 miles in early February, the Sham received an early boost when 2003 runner-up Empire Maker went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby and first in the Belmont Stakes (G1). Two years later, Giacomo used a third-place effort in the Sham as a springboard to his shocking 50-1 triumph in the “Run for the Roses,” which prompted the Sham to receive Grade 3 status in 2006.
The Sham was shifted to January in 2011 and shortened to a mile in 2012, but these changes haven’t made the race any less productive. Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winners Tapizar and Goldencents claimed the Sham in 2011 and 2013, while Grade 1 winners Collected (2016), Gormley (2017), and McKinzie (2018) all reached the Sham winner’s circle during the late 2010s.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has enjoyed more Sham success than any other conditioner, saddling six of the first 20 winners. But one of Baffert’s most talented participants, future Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Secret Circle, was beaten by Out of Bounds in 2012. The winning time was a stakes-record 1:34.56, a testament to how well both colts performed.
By J. Keeler Johnson