The Road to the Kentucky Derby leads to California Saturday where Midnight Hawk will go to the starting gate as the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the 14th running of the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.
Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Midnight Hawk is a young colt I noted as an honorable mention in my 2014 Kentucky Derby Outlook, and I’m eager to see how he performs in his debut as a three year old.
Of the six horses entered the Sham, I’m most interested in Midnight Hawk. He comes into this race off of an impressive 6¼-length win in his maiden debut last month at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Although he’s stepping up in class, Midnight Hawk should be able to advance to the next level. Leading up to this race, he’s fired two back-to-back bullet work outs over the Santa Anita surface and, if Midnight Hawk improves off of his maiden win, he’ll be tough in the Sham.
Kristo (2-1), trained by John Sadler, has never finished worse than second in three starts and he comes into the Sham with a 6¾-length win in an 8½-furlong race at Santa Anita last October. Kristo led from gate to wire in that race and his fractional splits are competitive with the other horses in this field.
Another move forward would make Kristo competitive in this race.
I’ll Wrap It Up (8-1) looks like an intriguing long shot. With a 1-1-3 record in five starts, I’ll Wrap It Up is one of the more seasoned colts in this race and he’s steadily improving with each race.
Last November, I’ll Wrap It Up finished a respectable second in one-mile turf race at Betfair Hollywood Park. He followed that performance with a 3¾-length win, finally breaking his maiden, in an 8½-furlong race at Betfair Hollywood Park on December 7. Another move forward off of his maiden win could make I’ll Wrap It up competitive in the Sham.
Top Fortitude (2-1) is another young colt with only a maiden win to his credit. But if he improves off of that impressive start, he should also be competitive in this race.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Sham will receive 10 points, the second-place finisher will receive four points, the third-place finisher will receive two points and the four-place finisher will receive one point. Here’s a look at the current top 20 Derby qualifiers:
KENTUCKY DERBY 2014 LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. Havana, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
2. Honor Code, 14, Shug McGaughey, $340,000
3. Tapiture, 12, Steve Asmussen, $120,738
4. Bond Holder, 11, Doug O’Neill, $273,000
5. Rise Up, 10, Tom Amoss, $782,633
6. We Miss Artie, 10, Todd Pletcher, $242,000
7. Noble Moon, 10, Leah Gyarmati, $145,000
8. Ami’s Holiday, Josie Carrroll, $120,635
9. Cleburne, 10, Dale Romans, $102,044
10. Casigaupo, 5, Mario Morales, $271,050
11. Cairo Prince, 4, Kiaran McGlaughlin, $230,000
12. Dance With Fate, 4, Peter Eurton, $110,000
13. Smarty’s Echo, 4, Anne Smith, $80,000
14. Classic Giacnroll, 4, Lisa Guerrero, $50,000
15. Laddie Boy, 4, Chuck Perry, $39,719
16. Smart Cover, 4, Dale Romans, $32,918
17. Big Bazinga, 4, Sandra Dominguez, $29,139
18. Ride On Curlin, 3, William Gowin, $64,387
19. Strong Mandate, 2, D. Wayne Lukas, $382,500
20. Tamarando, 2, Jerry Hollendorfer, $270,000