Gormley had everything his own way in his first two starts.
In his debut Sept. 4 at Del Mar for Jerry and Ann Moss, he dueled outside a rival and pulled away late to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race easily. Less than a month later, the Malibu Moon colt opened up a clear lead and again had enough in the tank late to win the FrontRunner Stakes (G1), three lengths clear of Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Klimt.
So, when Gormley found himself four wide in both the first and second turns during the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), stalking the pace instead of out front, it wasn't much of a surprise the John Shirreffs trainee faded late.
"It was inexperience on his part," Shirreffs said. "It was only his third race. He won his maiden pretty easily and went to the lead in the FrontRunner. So it was 'What do I do?'"
Shirreffs feels the experience in the Juvenile, where Gormley finished seventh, could prove crucial for the colt's 3-year-old campaign, which will begin Jan. 7 in the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park.
"Time will tell," Shirreffs said of Gormley's development, specifically if the Juvenile will end up being a learning experience. "Once a horse has been campaigned and they've seen it all, they go into races knowing what's expected. He didn't know what was expected of him (in the Juvenile)."
Shirreffs was also critical of his own training leading into the Breeders' Cup. With his particularly spunky colt, Shirreffs did his best to temper Gormley's enthusiasm with strong, extended gallops and slow timed works, but the conditioner now feels that may have hampered his trainee.
"Leading up to the Breeders' Cup, we were kinda concerned, because he's a very energetic horse," Shirreffs said. "I trained him a lot for the Breeders' Cup—a lot of gallops. His workouts were a little slow, because I was galloping him so much. Long gallops and slow works didn't put him in the right mindset."
Shirreffs has since adjusted, with relatively quick drills for Gormley, and he's kept them recently at five furlongs instead of stretching him out to six. His last three drills have been 1:00 3/5 (Jan. 2), 1:00 2/5 (Dec. 26), and :58 4/5 (Dec. 18).
"We've stuck with five-eighths and he's been working well, and (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) has been working him," Shirreffs said. "We're going to try to use that energy to get him to improve."
In to challenge Gormley is fellow Juvenile runner Term of Art, who finished a far-back ninth in the Breeders' Cup race, but came back to win the off-the-turf Cecil B. DeMille Stakes (G3) at Del Mar Nov. 27.
Term of Art is the only other sophomore with graded stakes experience in the field, but the combination of Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Mike Smith looms in highly regarded American Anthem.
Owned by breeder WinStar Farm in partnership with S F Bloodstock and China Horse Club, the Bodemeister colt didn't win his debut by much—only a neck—but the six-furlong maiden special weight has come up very strong in retrospect. Three horses out of the Dec. 3 race have come back to win since—So Conflated, Sheer Flattery, and Iliad.
Other last-out maiden winners in the field include Big Hit and Blabimir. Last-out stakes winner Colonel Samsen is also in the field, following a score in the Gold Rush at Golden Gate Fields Dec. 3, but the Colonel John gelding has yet to make a start on dirt. He broke his maiden on the Del Mar turf in his last start before the Gold Rush. Maiden Bird Is the Word, a Birdstone colt who is winless in five starts, completes the field.
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, January 07, 2017, Race 7
- 3 yo
- 3:30 PM (local)
|1||1American Anthem (KY)||Mike E. Smith||119||Bob Baffert||9/5|
|2||2Term of Art (KY)||Joseph Talamo||124||Doug F. O'Neill||5/1|
|3||3Bird Is the Word (KY)||Kent J. Desormeaux||119||G. F. Almeida||20/1|
|4||4Colonel Samsen (KY)||Flavien Prat||121||Eoin G. Harty||12/1|
|5||5Gormley (KY)||Victor Espinoza||124||John A. Shirreffs||8/5|
|6||6Big Hit (KY)||Santiago Gonzalez||119||Philip D'Amato||4/1|
|7||7Blabimir (KY)||Mario Gutierrez||119||Doug F. O'Neill||12/1|