Sham always had pretensions of being something special and not just because his daddy is a stallion named Pretense. More important, his dam Sequoia is from a family of champions. Among the tribe are Tom Rolfe and How and Pocahontas and Ack Ack.
Now Sham, despite his name, seems to be living up to the high hopes everyone has had for him, especially his owner, Sigmund Sommer, who purchased the colt for $200,000 four months ago. Last Saturday the horse scored a convincing 2�-length victory over favorite Linda's Chief in the Santa Anita Derby.
Several winners of this West Coast classic—Hill Gail, Determine, Swaps, Lucky Debonair and Majestic Prince—have crossed the Rockies and captured the Kentucky Derby, and Louisville, of course, is where Sham is headed. But before then—in fact, in just two weeks—he is to challenge the king of the 3-year-old crop, Secretariat. The meeting is to be in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.
Last weekend there were Derbies in Florida and Louisiana, too, but only Santa Anita's seemed likely to produce a worthy foe for Secretariat. At Gulfstream Park a blue-blooded colt named Royal and Regal, winner of four of 11 previous races, finished first, and at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans Leo's Pisces, winner of just one of nine other starts, came in and paid an astronomical $109.80 for $2.
The caliber of the competition in California was significantly better, and Sham impressed by winning in near-track-record time: 1:47 for the mile-and-an-eighth distance. The only horse to win a Santa Anita Derby with that swift a clocking was Lucky Debonair.
In the San Felipe Stakes on March 17 Sham had finished fourth, eight lengths behind Linda's Chief, but he had excuses. He was in trouble constantly and Jockey Laffit Pincay found it difficult to steer the awkward and still green colt out of jams. Early this winter Pincay, on the advice of his astute agent, Vince De Gregory, chose Sham over Linda's Chief as his Kentucky Derby hopeful, but after the San Felipe, Pincay wondered if the decision was a good one. He would stick by it, however. "I pay my agent for his advice," Pincay said, "and I take it."
Trainer Frank Martin, the cool and crafty Cuban who handles Sham, retained confidence in the horse. "He's a large, long-striding colt," said Martin, "and when he gets into traps it's sometimes difficult to get him out of them. He needs to be in the clear, running on the outside, to show what he can do."
There was to be a good deal of trouble in the Santa Anita Derby, but Sham, for once, managed to avoid it. However, a stablemate named Knightly Dawn was slam-bang in the middle of the scuffle. To Braulio Baeza on Linda's Chief, and to that colt's trainer, Bobby Frankel, it suddenly seemed as if they were involved in a gang war.
There were just six starters. Sham drew the No. 2 post position. The swift Ancient Title was in No. 4, Linda's Chief in No. 5 and Knightly Dawn in No. 6. Looking at the lineup, Martin decided on his strategy. He would send Knightly Dawn to the front immediately to duel with Ancient Title. Sandwiched between the speed horses, Baeza on Linda's Chief would be forced to take back momentarily. And in that brief pause, Martin hoped Pincay on Sham would be able to gain position just behind the pacemakers and just in front of Linda's Chief.
Actually, when the gates sprung open. Ancient Title added a new twist. He leaped forward and swerved to the right, barging into Linda's Chief. On the outside Knightly Dawn broke quickly and he, too, veered to the right, toward the middle of an empty track. But his rider, Milo Valenzuela, whacked the horse right-handed and the blow startled Knightly Dawn so much he immediately took a sharp left—bang, into Linda's Chief. Martin had wanted Baeza to take back, and, boy, did he ever. Meanwhile, Ancient Title and Knightly Dawn recovered and barreled down the track, eager for the lead. Pincay dropped Sham into third place, just where he wanted the colt to be. Linda's Chief recovered magnificently and soon was running fourth.