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Sham Stakes jump-starts Derby dreams

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the Class of 2011, and the annual kick-off to the Road to the Roses! That’s right, with the Ides of January already upon us, that means the Triple Crown is only a few months awayhave you picked your Derby horse yet? While Uncle Mo is the overwhelming favorite after romping in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, it’s a long journey till May, and it’s always good to have a few horses in reserve just in case your favorite falls off the trail. With the new year comes new faces, and this weekend, a batch of freshly-minted 3-year-olds will contend to score their first graded stakes race in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. Could one of these, and not Mo, be destined to wear the roses?

Santa AnitaThis Saturday marks a talent-packed renewal of the Grade III Sham at Santa Anita. Though only five will contest the 1 1/16-mile distance over the newly-installed dirt surface, quality makes up for quantity in this race. The top two trainers currently stabled in California have one entry apiece; for Bob Baffert, the red, white, and blue-clad Uncle Sam will try for his first stakes win; for Steve Asmussen, who has stabled a portion of his top horses in California for the first time, recently graduated maiden winner Tapizar will test his mettle after firing a bullet workout this past Thursday at Santa Anita. Uncle Sam broke his maiden first time out thanks to a perfect ride by Rafael Bejarano, who will retain the mount for the Sham.

The other shooters for the Sham are Pride of Silver, Anthony’s Cross, and the well-tested Clubhouse Ride. With nine lifetime starts already under his belt, Clubhouse Ride will be trying to break out of the bridesmaid role when he tries to rack up his first graded stakes victory after running third in his two previous attempts, the Grade III Delta Jackpot and Grade I Cashcall Futurity.

TapizarPride of Silver’s maiden win is standing up to good form. After running second in his first two career starts, the bay gelding came back to win at 1 1/16-miles in a maiden special at Hollywood Park; two of those he beat in that race came back to win in their next start, and the other two finished second or third, respectively. Anthony’s Cross got the best over Tapizar in a maiden special at Churchill Downs the Thursday before the Breeders’ Cup, but in that race, Tapizar was fanned 6-wide going into the first turn before tiring to fourth. Of course, Tapizar rebounded in his next start, breaking his maiden by 10 1/2 lengths at the same track going 1 1/16-miles.

It’s a big racing weekend for Santa Anita. Also on Saturday’s card is the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and the Grade II San Fernando Stakes for older horses. Sunday will mark Blind Luck’s 4-year-old debut when she runs in the Grade II El Encino Stakes.

Monday, the wait will finally be over and a new Horse of the Year will be crowned. Be sure to watch TVG at 7:00pm ET for the nail-biting awards ceremony.

The Grade II Sham Stakes will be broadcast live on HRTV from Santa Anita. Post time is scheduled for approximately 1:30pm PT.

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