Keying Coliseum in the Sham Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 3rd, 2019

Remember 2017, when Gormley “upset” American Athem in the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita and paid a whopping $5.20 to win? Remarkably, that modest payoff has been the highest in the Sham since the one-mile event became a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race in 2013.

During that same timeframe, the Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has started horses in five editions of the Sham, winning three and finishing second in the other two. He even swept the exacta in 2016, and could certainly do so again this Saturday when he sends out #5 Coliseum and #7 Much Better for the 2019 Sham Stakes.

Coliseum figures to start as the clear favorite, and on paper he looks tough to beat. A son of Tapit out of the Grade 1-winning mare Game Face, Coliseum was an eye-catching debut winner sprinting seven furlongs at Del Mar on November 17th, seizing the early lead and pulling away with complete authority to win by 6 ¾ lengths with eye-catching speed figures of 96 (BRIS) and 91 (Beyer). He was never asked for his best, and Baffert has expressed confidence that Coliseum will be even better running longer distances.

Since that impressive debut, Coliseum has trained like a machine at Santa Anita, with four of his last five workouts being bullets, including three straight six-furlong moves since December 19th. He’s got enough early speed to contend from the start, with only #3 Savagery looming as a probable pace challenger, and if Coliseum can secure a comfortable position setting or stalking the pace, I don’t think anyone will catch him.

As for Much Better, he opened his career with a decisive 3 ¼-length maiden win on dirt at Del Mar last summer before switching to turf and finishing second in the Zuma Beach Stakes and last (with a troubled trip) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I). The son of Pioneerof the Nile returns to dirt today and shouldn’t have any issue with the surface switch; for good measure, he’s got strong tactical speed and figures to work out an ideal trip stalking Coliseum and Savagery through the early going.

Still, #6 Gunmetal Gray could stand in the way of a Baffert sweep. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Gunmetal Gray has thrived racing around two turns, finishing second behind probable two-year-old champion Game Winner in the American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I) before rallying through a slightly awkward trip to finish fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). The drop in class for the Sham should make Gunmetal Gray a dangerous challenger, especially with top jockey Mike Smith in the saddle.

Recognizing that this small field could lead to unappealing prices on the favorites, I’ll avoid spreading too much in the exotics and instead play Coliseum and Gunmetal Gray straight in the top two positions:

$16 exacta: 5 with 6 ($16) $7 trifecta: 5 with 6 with 2,7 ($14)

Good luck!