Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Colonel John had a dream run on the outside of pacesetter Victory Pete, taking command leaving the three-sixteenths pole and winning the nine-furlong test for 3-year-olds under strong urging as El Gato Malo closed. Colonel John showed plenty of tactical speed and an excellent turn of foot late, running the final eighth of a mile in less than 12 seconds.
The WinStar Farm homebred won his first start since finishing second to Into Mischief in the Dec. 22 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. The bay son of Tiznow , out of the Turkoman mare Sweet Damsel, won his first graded race for trainer Eoin Harty.
"I’m sure he can get a distance," said Harty, who will now aim for the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 5. "It’s just a matter of not getting in his way."
With the scratches of Coast Guard and Trevor's Clever, just five contested the Sham under a light rainfall. Fans could see only the first two choices.
Colonel John found a good spot immediately out of the gate and tracked Victory Pete on the pacesetter's outside through droopy fractions of :24.97, :50.04 and 1:14.35. El Gato Malo also broke well from his rail post and saved ground in fourth for jockey David Flores. The field took close order on the final turn and El Gato Malo, lacking room behind Victory Pete, angled outward coming off of the bend to make his bid. Colonel John edged away in upper stretch as El Gato Malo went wide.
El Gato Malo has shown a tendency to gawk in the home stretch, and he did it again while Colonel John kept to his task. El Gato Malo straightened his path in the final furlong but could not close quickly enough. The two kept battling well past the wire.
The final time was a slow 1:50.15, but on Santa Anita's renovated synthetic track, it's hard to say exactly what that means.
“I didn’t want to put him on the lead, but sometimes you are forced to in certain situations," said Gomez, who rode Colonel John in his debut and replaced the injured Corey Nakatani in the Sham. "I thought (Victory Pete) would be the speed, but nobody really went with him. So I was in a very comfortable position.
"I just wanted to let him have the smoothest trip possible, and have him come home. And he really did. I heard David’s horse coming and I floated out to him. This colt kept running and he even galloped out real good. (El Gato Malo) never got to him. I was very proud of him.”
Colonel John' last victory came by three lengths in Hollywood's 1 1/16-mile Real Quiet Stakes Nov. 18. He has not been worse than second in five lifetime starts, winning three. Colonel John earned $120,000 and has banked $375,300. The colt had trained beautifully at Santa Anita for his return.
"I didn’t want him taken off the pace and get caught in that position that David (Flores, on El Gato Malo) got caught in," Harty said. "When you get away with three-quarters in 14, you’re sitting pretty good if you’re close to the lead.
"David, unfortunately, got caught up in traffic. He’s a very good horse, too (El Gato Malo). I think both horses are; not taking anything away from Colonel John, but I think if David had gotten out earlier, it would have been a little tighter than it was.”
Sent off at odds of 3-2, Colonel John paid $5, $2.40 and $2.10. El Gato Malo, who won the first three races of his career -- including the one-mile San Rafael (gr. III) by 6 1/4 lengths in his last start Jan. 12 -- returned $2.20 and $2.10.
“I was down there inside and there was nothing you could do," Flores said. "You just have to wait. You move soon, and you might get beat. So I just had to wait and wait and hopefully the others make a run early. He absolutely leveled when we got out. But he just had too much to do. It was a very good race for him, though.”
"He was a little keyed up today, but I expected him to be so," trainer Craig Dollase said of the runner-up. "It had been a little while between races, and he was boxed in, but that’s OK. As long as he comes out of it healthy, we’re on to the next dance, the Santa Anita Derby.”
Victory Pete wound up three lengths farther back in third, paying $2.60. The Japanese-bred Reflect Times and Success Fee followed.