GORMLEY GIVINING SHIRREFFS THE FEVER AGAIN
Excitement and anticipation can be a great part of any sport. Some of what drives the competitors are those dreams of glory. And once you experience that success, it often times will whet the appetite a bit more.
Thoroughbred trainer John Shirreffs has been to the top of the mountain a few times for sure. As the man that guided the legendary Zenyatta, the California-based conditioner tasted greatness at the highest levels of the sport as he led her to the winner’s circle 19 times in 20 lifetime starts. Outside of that miraculous mare, one of Shirreff’s greatest training feats was authoring the upset win in the 2005 Kentucky Derby with a 50 to 1 shot named Giacomo. With Mike Smith in the irons, Giacomo used a hot early pace to his favor as he closed from 17th and won by a half-length at the wire. That win on the first Saturday in May was so captivating Shirreffs has said he has never watched the replay because the moment was so special he didn’t want to change the memory of it all.
So now we fast-forward to 2017 and the road to Kentucky Derby 143. Gormley is an athletic son of Malibu Moon that has given his trainer plenty of reason to think about the first Saturday in May. With three wins in four lifetime starts, this great-grandson of Seattle Slew has provided his veteran trainer with some Derby dreams. Being a veteran of the game however, Shirreffs is keeping his optimism in check.
“There is just so much excitement that surrounds the sport and the big events you can’t help getting bit by the bug,” says Shirreffs. “At the same time you have to understand in this sport there is so much room for disappointment as well. It is awfully early so you have to keep things in check.”
Shirreffs may be trying to keep things in check right now, but a look at the past performances of Gormley certainly tells us there is reason for optimism. His front-running win in the 2016 Frontrunner Stakes at Santa Anita was a coming out party of sorts. Picking up his first graded stakes win, he answered the call by impressively pulling away in the stretch. His last start in the 1-mile Sham Stakes, also at the great race place, showed us even more about this quality colt. Chasing down American Anthem, Gormley battled brilliantly with the Bob Baffert trained son of Bodemeister in the stretch and prevailed by a half-length.
“The Sham showed us he is a battler,” says Shirreffs. “I think he ran pretty well in that race but more importantly he displayed the will to fight to the finish.”
Another big plus for Gormley and Shirreffs right now is jockey Victor Espinoza. Having won the Kentucky Derby three times (2002 War Emblem, 2014 California Chrome, 2015 American Pharoah) in his career, the veteran rider knows what it takes to win on the sport’s biggest stage.
“Victor is a big plus for us,” says the veteran trainer. “We have had a long relationship and he really likes the horse. Victor has a lot of faith in Gormley and they have a great relationship. The horse has responded under him and has ran very well under his guidance.”
The road that leads to Churchill Downs will become increasingly crowded in the coming weeks. There are several different entrance ramps and Shirreffs is unsure as to the exact path his budding star will take.
“We are still trying to decide what is the best route right now,” claims the California based Shirreffs. “The weather here on the West coast has been challenging. We will just see what we think is best, but shipping to Oaklawn in Arkansas where there are some nice purses or elsewhere is not out of the question.”