Triple Crown season is fast approaching, which means all eyes were on the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, on Saturday afternoon.
Annually the most highly anticipated Kentucky Derby qualifier, the Santa Anita Derby was headlined by a trio of Bob Baffert horses. The favorite among that group was Reach the World, but American Anthem and Irish Freedom were not to be overlooked.
However, Mastery, Baffert's most notable horse, was unavailable to run in the Churchill Downs appetizer after he was forced to undergo surgery for an ankle injury.
As a result, the field appeared wide-open with 13 horses vying for crucial Kentucky Derby qualifying points. In fact, the Kentucky Derby's official website noted no horse entered had ever won a graded stakes race.
"I think that Mastery might have separated himself from the class if he would have stayed injury-free, but with him out, I think it’s just a really deep, strong, anything-can-happen kind of year," trainer Doug O’Neill said, per the Courier-Journal's Jason Frakes.
As it turns out, Gormley took home first place and 100 qualifying points by holding off Battle of Midway and Royal Mo, who finished second and third, respectively:
|2017 Santa Anita Derby Results|
|1||Gormley||Victor Espinoza||John Shirreffs|
|2||Battle of Midway||Corey Nakatani||Jerry Hollendorfer|
|3||Royal Mo||Gary Stevens||John Shirreffs|
|4||Reach The World||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert|
|5||Iliad||Flavien Prat||Doug O’Neill|
|6||Kimbear||Joe Talamo||Eric Kruljac|
|7||Term of Art||Tyler Baze||Doug O’Neill|
|8||Irish Freedom||Rafael Bejarano||Bob Baffert|
|9||Milton Freewater||Tiago Pereira||Doug O’Neill|
|10||Midnight Pleasure||Jamie Theriot||Mick Ruis|
|11||So Conflated||Mario Gutierrez||Doug O’Neill|
|12||American Anthem||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert|
|13||Comma Sister||George Papaprodromou||Israel Ocampo|
You can view the final payouts from Saturday's race below:
|2017 Santa Anita Derby Payouts|
|Battle of Midway||—||$7.80||$5.40|
|Source: NBC Broadcast|
TVG provided video of the race's decisive moments:
Gormley and Victor Espinoza rally to win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby! https://t.co/zlj9VVc7nd2017-4-8 23:20:31
Gormley needed a strong late push to secure a win at Santa Anita, but the homestretch brilliance allowed him to rattle off a fourth win in six starts, per Horse Racing Nation.
Perhaps a bigger shocker, though, was that Iliad—trained by O'Neill—failed to finish in the top three after flashing fine form in advance of Saturday's race. In four career starts prior to the Santa Anita Derby, Iliad had recorded two wins and a second-place finish at last month's San Felipe Stakes.
As a result, he's now on the outside looking in with the Twin Spires in sight.
The day was also a disappointment for Reach the World, who was far off the rail and needed to make up significant ground around the final turn in order to try to secure qualifying points. However, Baffert's best bet in the race finished fourth just behind Royal Mo—who rebounded nicely from a ninth-place finish at the Rebel Stakes in March.
Now a month away from the year's first Triple Crown race, attention will shift to Gormley and Wood Memorial winner Irish War Cry as they seek to build on Saturday's wins and generate some serious momentum as May 6 approaches.
"I think the key was Espinoza rating Gormley and then making his big move," trainer John Shirreffs said, according to BloodHorse's Jeremy Balan. "This is very exciting. It's thrilling to have a Kentucky Derby horse and it's for the same owners as Giacomo.
"Gormley is an evolving horse. He's very precocious and very excitable. I just need to turn that energy of his into positive use."