We've seen so many dominant horses from California in recent years that it seems odd that the Santa Anita Derby winner was seen as not much more than an afterthought in the Derby. Unfortunately, he got about as much money as he deserved. This horse can win big races, but he is also really short on consistency, and obviously I'm not the only one who isn't convinced that he belongs alongside the best of this three year old class. I'm glad, though, that he'll have another chance to show us what he has, because I really want to like Gormley.
Last race: I liked nothing about Gormley's effort in the Kentucky Derby - or at least nothing about the last half of it. He was well positioned out of the gate. He looked perhaps like he was giving a little too much early on, but he was fighting hard, and into the stretch he was up as high as fourth and seemed to have a chance to be a factor. But then he bumped with Practical Joke, and it was as if that was a pin that popped his balloon. He quit at that moment and faded to ninth by the wire. He certainly wasn't going to challenge the winner, but he should have been better than he was if he had shown heart in the stretch.
Prior experience: I can't remember too many cases where a horse I respected won a major prep race and I was so turned off by it. Gormley won the Santa Anita Derby, but the race was just a trainwreck, and I felt worse about this horse in the Derby after than I did before. The race was glacially slow, and it looked like everyone was running through belly-deep mud down the stretch. The respect for the colt came early on - he broke his maiden in September at first ask and then came back next time out to win the Grade 1 FrontRunner very convincingly. Then he was a very disappointing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before rebounding to win the Sham to start his three year old year. Then it was a lousy fourth in the San Felipe behind third-place finisher Term of Art, who just finished dead last in the Preakness. Then he won the Santa Anita Derby. He has rebounded from his last two poor performances to win the next time out, so if the pattern repeats he could win the Belmont - though I won't be betting on that in all likelihood.
Trainer: John Shirreffs is a serious veteran of this sport, having been training on his own since 1978. He's best known for being the trainer of the great Zenyatta, but he has won a Triple Crown race, pulling off a shocking upset in the Derby with Giacomo in 2005. He doesn't often mess with young colts, but he is a master of having horses ready for big races and can be trusted in tough spots.
Jockey: Victor Espinoza's opinion of the Belmont has surely shifted quite dramatically. In 2002 with War Emblem and 2014 with California Chrome he came to the Belmont with a shot at a Triple Crown and fell short. Neither race went very well for him, and he probably didn't much like the race. In 2015, though, he was back on American Pharoah, and in a dominant performance he rode his way into immortality. So now he's probably fairly fond of Big Sandy.
Breeding: Gormley is a son of Malibu Moon, best known as the sire of Derby winner Orb. Malibu Moon is a son of A.P. Indy, a Belmont winner and top stamina influence. Malibu Moon showed promise early in his racing career but suffered a career-ending injury at two. Gormley's damsire, Bernstein, was a solid sire and was a son of top stud Storm Cat. This isn't the best pedigree in this ridiculously-well-bred group, but it is still very well suited to this challenge, I think the horse will struggle in this race, but it won't be because of his breeding.
Odds: MyBookie has Gormley installed at +1000, which makes him the co-seventh choice among likely starters. That feels like just where he should be, which is a remarkable thing to say about a Santa Anita Derby winner given how strong winners of that race have been in recent years. I don't like the raw price too much, but I suspect that if he is the seventh choice on race day the price will be more attractive.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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