Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 3 Sham Stakes – By Eric Solomon

New York ran it’s first Derby Points race of 2023 yesterday, now California takes its turn today with the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. A half dozen three year olds will go one mile over the main track at Santa Anita. Four of the six runners in this race are trained by Bob Baffert, meaning that only two runners in this race are eligible to earn points toward entry in the Kentucky Derby. 

Santa Anita, Sunday 1/8/22, Race 8: The Grade 3 Sham Stakes

20 Total Derby points (10/4/3/2/1)

1 – Newgate (6-1 ML, 125-1 Circa): Bob Baffert trains the first four horses in row in the starting gate in this Grade 3 contest. Three of the four horses are owned by the same SF Racing, Starlight, Madaket conglomerate, including this son of Into Mischief who fetched $850K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. He won on debut as expected, but has been no match for stablemates such as Havanameltdown and Cave Rock. He was 5th in his lone two turn race when he faced the eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, Forte, in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Frankie Dettori has been riding well at this meet, and he’ll get the call for the first time today. I see him as a cut below the best right now in this race. 

2 – National Treasure (2-1 ML, 60-1 Circa): The third place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile makes his first start since that race today. He’s a son of Quality Road that cost his ownership group a half million dollars at the Fasig-Tipton Sale in August. The only two horses that have finished in front of him in his two losses were Cave Rock and Forte, which is certainly strong company. I see the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the deepest two year old stakes race last season (which was not the case in the previous running). He’s following a typical Baffert work pattern, and working quicker than his stablemates. I think he’s the best of the quartet right now, but I don’t think the margin is huge.

3 – Speed Boat Beach (5-2 ML, 90-1 Circa): I find him to be the most interesting runner in this race. Pegram, Watson, and Weitman own this speedy son of Bayern that sold for $200K at the OBS Sale in March of 2022. He put up a monstrous Beyer in his debut when sprinting 5 and ½ furlongs at Del Mar in September. Baffert targeted the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint with him. He won the Speakeasy here in October, but he was outclassed at Keeneland. He came back to finish second in the Cecil B. DeMille at one mile on the turf last month. He’s the first foal to race from the Pioneerof the Nile mare, Sophia Mia, so Baffert’s fingerprints are all over this colt. I think he’s faster from the gate than the two inside of him. He has the pedigree to succeed at two turns, but it is a bit curious that they were targeting a turf sprint for him. I see him as a serious player here, but also wouldn’t be shocked if he finished at the back of the pack either. 

4 – Reincarnate (8-1 ML, 175-1 Circa): Despite the $775K his owners shelled out for him at the OBS Sale in April 2022, this son of Good Magic looks to be the least talented of the Baffert quartet at this stage of the game. He was second in his first three starts with maiden special weight company before breaking through in his most recent try at Del Mar.  

5 – Packs a Wahlop (6-1 ML): Jeff Mullins has been keeping this son of Creative Cause on the turf in his last four starts. His only dirt start came in his debut in the slop at Gulfstream back in June. He would go on to win his next three starts on the turf, including a pair of Grade 3 races. He ended his two year old season with an 8th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland, beaten less than four lengths. Mike Smith hops off of him in favor of Spun Intended. I don’t see him taking that big of a step forward to compete with this group today.

6 –Spun Intended (5-2 ML, 60-1 Circa): Mark Glatt sends out this recent maiden breaker in his first start against winners today. He paired his 87 Beyer in his first two starts, so there’s reason to believe that he can take a step forward today, while stretching out for the first time. The works are solid and his pedigree suggests that he’ll be able to handle two turns quite well. He’s the first foal to race from the graded stakes winning mare, Flora Dora. While I like the upside that he has, drawing the outside post while Bob Baffert has four runners inside of him, is a less than ideal scenario for him. 



The Verdict: 3-2-6

The Baffert Train rolls into Arcadia California this afternoon, with 66.6% of the starters in this race. I think both National Treasure and Speed Boat Beach are the two that will decide this race. While I concede there’s a huge boom or bust factor with Speed Boat Beach, I think he has the edge in this one mile stakes race today. Spun Intended seems to want to be on the front end, however, I can’t seem him getting there without going three to four wide into the first time. 

As a result, I think Speed Boat Beach could find himself alone on the front end, making him very dangerous, If he can run back to his debut, this race might be over when they spring the latch, If the pace gets too hot, the favorite, National Treasure, will likely be able to run them down. 

I like Spun Intended quite a bit here, and I still think he could win. However, he has to beat the Baffert rivals that certainly could wind up working as a team. Unless he catches an absolute flyer out of the gate, it’s hard for me to envision another scenario where he’s better than three wide going into the starting gate. 

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