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Sham, Mucho Macho Man Kickoff 2019 Triple Crown Preps

by Dustin Fabian

January 3, 2019

Racing fans are in for a treat this weekend as two of the bigger names on the Triple Crown Trail – Coliseum and Code of Honor – are both in action Saturday.  Code of Honor kicks off his ‘Road to the Roses’ in Gulfstream’s $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes, while Coliseum kicks it into high gear for Bob Baffert in Santa Anita’s Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes. 

Also on tap this weekend are four other stakes races for three-year-olds including the $100,000 Kittens Joy on the lawn, featuring Henley’s Joy, and the $100,000 Ginger Brew for fillies, starring Pivottina.  In addition to the Sham, Santa Anita’s Saturday card includes the G2 San Gabriel Stakes.  My colleague, Jeremy Plonk, took a look at that race in his weekly Xpressbet Race of the Week analysis. 

On the tournaments front, I highly recommend checking out our $50,000 Beat the Host tournament.   It’s free to register and only costs $40 a week in wagers to play.  Take on expert handicappers like Jeremy Plonk, Millie Ball, Jon White and Eddie Olczyk to win $2,500 every Saturday in January and February. 

Plus, for those looking to go to the NHC, you can play in Santa Anita’s NHC Super Qualifier online with Xpressbet.  An NHC Seat will be awarded for every 15 registrants. 

But enough of the commercials – here’s a look at the Sham and Mucho Macho Man!

Grade 3 Sham Stakes (Santa Anita, Race 9 – 7:04PM ET)
1 Mile Dirt (Two-Turn) – 3YO

Of this weekend’s top two Triple Crown Trail races, the Sham has a little more direct bearing on the Kentucky Derby as qualifying points are on the line for the top four finishers.  And that makes sense.  Past winners of the Sham include Goldencents, Bob and John, Colonel John, Tapizar, Gormley and McKinzie and nearly all went on to either bigger and better. Past Sham place/show finishers include Empire Maker, Giacomo, Secret Circle and Borrego.

As is the case with most California races, Bob Baffert leads all conditioners with five prior wins, including the 2018 edition with McKinzie. 

Top Contenders

  • Coliseum (Baffert/Talamo) – You’ve got to start the analysis with Coliseum, the impressive son of Tapit that Bob Baffert sent out to a 6 3/4-length maiden win on November 17.  This horse was bred to be a star and his debut had to solidify Godolphin’s high hopes for him.  He’ll have a target on his back for sure.
  • Gunmetal Gray (Hollendorfer/Smith) – This writer expected much more of Gunmetal Gray in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that I’m not sure what to think anymore.  He was unable to do anything in a race that completely fell apart up front and that has me scratching my head.  Flavien Prat is out as jockey as Hollendorfer goes to Big Money Mike Smith gets the mount. 
  • Gray Magician (Miller/Prat) – Ran huge in his first start around two turns and his first start with Peter Miller last out, winning by 9 1/2-lengths at Del Mar on November 24.  This is a big class step but you can’t argue that he deserves to be here.

Race Outlook

Coliseum drew really well in PP5 and that’ll allow Joe Talamo to read the break and ride accordingly.  He should be forward placed, but he doesn’t strike as a ‘need the lead’ type of runner.  He’ll be in the top flight, but wouldn’t’ be surprised if he sits just off Savagery early, who adds blinkers and has plenty of early foot.  Gunmetal Gray won’t be as far out of it as he was in the Breeders’ Cup and perhaps he’s more of a grinder that wears down horses.  He may not have the natural ‘spurt’ of a closer, so for now I’ll use him underneath.

Betting Strategy

  • Key Coliseum above Gunmetal Gray and Gray Magician in all vertical bets for a chalky, yet potentially profitable, payout.
  • Play a smaller ‘saver’ ticket with Gunmetal Gray and Gray Magician over Coliseum.
  • Single Coliseum over in multi-race exotics.

Mucho Macho Man Stakes (Gulfstream, Race 10 – 4:41PM ET)
1 Mile Dirt (One-Turn) – 3YO

Originally contested as the Gulfstream Park Derby and renamed in 2015 the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, the Mucho Macho Man Stakes has frequently catered to stretch-out sprinters that ultimately had little impact on the Triple Crown races. 

2013 winner, Itsmyluckyday, is probably the most notable alum as he used this race as a springboard to a victory in the G3 Holy Bull, and runner-up performances in both the G1 Preakness and G1 Florida Derby.  Another notable runner was 2014 runner-up Wildcat Red.  He went on to win the G2 Fountain of Youth, finish second in the G1 Florida Derby and ultimately run 18th in the Kentucky Derby. 

Top Contenders

  • Code of Honor (McGaughey/Velazquez) – Son of Noble Mission was poised to be a clear second betting choice in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before he spiked a temperature the day of the race.  He won his debut so he runs well fresh and he came within 3-lengths of winning the G1 Champagne despite stumbling at the start.  You just have to wonder if he’s fully cranked for this, knowing bigger races are down the line and that he hasn’t raced since October.
  • Well Defined (O’Connell/Montavo) – Represented Florida in a speed-laden edition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and failed to make a mark that day 9/1 odds.  That was significant backing for a horse that had run at Gulfstream against restricted company and have to think the plan here is for Carlos Montalvo to put him on the lead at all costs. 
  • Mihos (Jerkens/J. Ortiz) – Made easy work of a maiden field on November 24 at Aqueduct and he’s a hard-to-ignore closer in a field with plenty of speed.  He’s a son of 2014 G2 Holy Bull winner, Cairo Prince, and his dam, Dust and Diamonds, won the G3 Sugar Swirl at Gulfstream in 2012. 

Race Outlook

I’m going to bet that Well Defined goes straight to the lead, but my hope is that Gladiator King, who won the 6-furlong Inaugural Stakes at Tampa last out in nearly gate-to-wire fashion, keeps him company from the outside.  That would set things up perfectly for the off the pacers, including Mihos and Code of Honor, who probably doesn’t have the early foot of some of these despite wiring a field on debut.  Garter and Tie would need a complete pace breakdown, but worth noting he has already defeated Well Defined.

Betting Strategy

  • Play a Mihos/Code of Honor Exacta Box heavily.
  • Play Trifectas with Mihos and Code of Honor over Garter and Tie, Well Defined and Trophy Chaser.
  • Use Mihos and Code of Honor in multi-race exotics.