The Triple Crown season at Santa Anita Park begins Jan. 5 with the Sham Stakes led by Goldencents, recent winner of the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot and runner-up in the prestigious Champagne Stakes.
The $100,000 Sham attracted a field of six 3-year-olds, including four colts and two ridglings. The one-mile test, inaugurated in 2001, is the third race on Saturday's card with a 1:31 p.m. PST scheduled post. It shares top billing with the $150,000 San Pasqual Stakes, an important prep for the Santa Anita Handicap. The 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual is race 7.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who saddled upstart I'll Have Another for Grade 1 victories last year in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, and Preakness Stakes, appears to have another top candidate in Goldencents.
"He worked [six furlongs] in 1:10 and [one-fifth] last Thursday [Dec. 27] and if you didn't have a stop watch, you'd have thought he went in 1:14 or 1:15, just cruising," said O'Neill. "I did have a stop watch on him, and as I looked down and saw one-ten and change, it was just, 'wow!' It was really amazing.
"He came out of it in great shape, full of energy, and it's just one day at a time. He's got to stay injury-free but he's a real exciting prospect."
Owned by University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino's RAP Racing, WC Racing, and Dave Kenney, Goldencents drew post 2 in the small field and will again be ridden by regular pilot Kevin Krigger.
Goldencents, who won two of three starts last year while banking $722,000, went gate to wire in the 1 1/16-mile Delta Jackpot to defeat favorite Bern Identity by 1 3/4 lengths Nov. 17. In his only defeat, the bay colt finished five lengths behind likely 2011 male juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby in the one-mile Champagne Oct. 6 at Belmont Park.
The Kentucky-bred son of Into Mischief out of Golden Works, by Banker's Gold, was a $62,000 purchase as a 2-year-old last June by Dennis O'Neill at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. when consigned by Southern Chase Farm, agent for Webb Carroll. In 2011, Carroll purchased the colt for $5,500 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall 2011 yearling sale.
O'Neill also entered Greeley Awesome in the Sham. The Mr. Greeley colt, to be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, graduated in his seventh start Nov. 30 at Betfair Hollywood Park by 9 1/4 lengths in a $40,000 maiden claimer.
Bob Baffert, who has won the Sham twice previously, will send out Den's Legacy and Manando. Den's Legacy, winner of the Generous Stakes at one-mile on turf Nov. 24, came back to run third, beaten 3 3/4 lengths, in the CashCall Futurity Dec. 15 at Hollywood Park. Although he's shown speed in most of his races, he made a run from well off the pace in the CashCall.
Owned by Westrock Stables, Den's Legacy has a record of 8-2-3-1, with earnings of $261,350. The son of Medaglia d'Oro drew the rail and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, who has been aboard in his past four starts.
In his only start on the dirt, Den's Legacy ran fifth, 12 1/4 lengths behind Baffert stablemate Power Broker, at Santa Anita in the Sept. 29 Front Runner Stakes, previously known as the Norfolk.
Kaleem Shah's Manando, who starts from the far outside post, is another speedy type who figures to make sure that Goldencents will not have an easy time of it on the front end. The Kentucky-bred colt by Bluegrass Cat exits a 5 1/4-length front-running maiden special score at 1 1/16 miles, his first try going a route of ground. Manando has had three works since his maiden win, including a half-mile in :46 1/5 Dec. 22, best of 74 drills that morning at Santa Anita.
The two ridgings are Dry Summer and Dirty Swagg.
Dry Summer, a son of Any Given Saturday trained by Jeff Mullins, makes his first appearance since finishing 11th of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on the Santa Anita turf Nov. 3. Myung Kwon Cho's homebred Dirty Swagg goes back to blinkers following a well-beaten seventh in the CashCall Futurity.