California three-year-olds begin Triple Crown season with the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham, which will be run at a mile on the dirt. A field of nine shows up on paper, though of late Southern California has taken a lot of rain, with more in the forecast. On the bright side, the racetrack seemed to dry out very quickly on Thursday. In any event, the most accomplished horses in the field, it seems fair to say, are Dressed in Hermes (who has been running primarily on grass) and Found Money.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, Laoban will be on a clear early lead. He is followed by Found Money, Collected, and Dressed in Hermes.
The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 90, belongs to Rare Candy.
Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Rare Candy (6-1): His lone dirt try resulted in a distant fourth to Nyquist. His surrounding grass races reveal a closing style that may not play that well on Santa Anita dirt. Earned lifetime top speed figure of 105 while no match for Dressed in Hermes in a Del Mar Grade 3 last time. We’re looking elsewhere.
Dressed in Hermes (7-2): His lone dirt effort came in his debut—in a Del Mar sprint. He received a wide trip and earned a speed figure of 81. Then he switched to grass, and he has developed into a fine grass horse, winning a minor stake and a Grade 3 and improving his figure in every start: 84 90 108 111. His breeding ratings are slanted towards grass, but he is a big threat if transferring his recent grass form to dirt.
Let’s Meet in Rio (6-1): One of two going for Baffert, he broke his maiden in his third start, running down Laoban at Los Alamitos. He will be adding Lasix today and keeping Kent Desormeaux. His victorious speed figure of 105 gives him the second-fastest dirt speed figure in the field. The maiden race he exits received a Race Rating of 96. Today’s race receives a preliminary Race Rating of 107. That’s a serious rise in class, but this lightly raced colt is certainly eligible to improve further.
Found Money (6-1): The most heavily raced horse in the field, with seven starts, Doug O’Neill colt enters off a win in a state-bred stakes route at Los Alamitos. He earned a speed figure of 100 for that effort, a lifetime top that would certainly prove insufficient if repeated today. We respect this 3 for 7 colt as a hard knocker, but we’re looking for a horse who might have more upside.
Semper Fortis (8-1): Another O’Neill colt, he brought a fortune at sale in 2014 and broke his maiden in a maiden claimer in 2015. On our speed figures he has a lot of improving to do.
Makes his third start today. Still a maiden, he improved his speed figure from 72 to 106 while losing to Let’s Meet in Rio by a length and a half last time out. The running line for that race is a bit deceiving. It makes it look as if he was locked in a speed duel for the early part of the race. But he really wasn’t. It was more a case of the horse to his outside making a couple of runs at him that just happened to coincide with the poles that determine the chart calls. Laoban had semi-control over the pace in that race. Still, it was a promising effort for this well-bred colt, and he is by no means out of this if he can find further improvement today. In addition, we are intrigued by the possibility that the other riders—none of whom is on a need-the-lead horse—will leave this longshot maiden alone on the early lead today. We see Laoban as having a viable longshot chance.
I’malreadythere (5-1): Hollendorfer gelding is 1 for 6 lifetime. Three races back, he gave Dressed in Hermes a good run in a minor stake on grass. Then he ran third in a Grade 3 sprint. Then he earned a lifetime top speed figure of 104 while finishing a distant third at 25-1 in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Our Race Ratings show (to our surprise) that he is up two points in class today. The rider switch to Bejarano is interesting. We’ll stamp him a contender.
Sorryaboutnothing (15-1): Yet another O’Neill, he has been too slow in three starts and remains a maiden.
Collected (3-1): Another Baffert, he broke his maiden down the hill (speed figure of 103), and then ran second to Dressed in Hermes in a Grade 3 grass route (speed figure of 110). He is making his dirt debut today. This is not the typical Baffert preparation for a talented young horse, but Baffert does get a 90 rating first dirt and an 83 going turf to dirt. Son of City Zip has marginally better breeding ratings for dirt than for grass, and, notably, a strong 91 rating for wet dirt. Favored on the morning line at 3-1, he has the second fastest lifetime speed figure in the field (albeit a grass number), but there is some “surface risk” here, and he does not draw a friendly post. He is a contender, to be sure, but not one that we want at morning line odds.
The Play: We’ll use Dressed in Hermes and I’malreadythere in multi-race wagers, but we want to take a shot with Laoban at a big price.