By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
At this time of year, it is rare to feel very confident in the chances of any given three-year-old in a Kentucky Derby prep race. Because it can be so difficult to predict which colts will improve dramatically with maturity (or not!), a colt that looks like a standout on paper could romp to an impressive victory (think Calculator in the Sham Stakes) or veer outward in the homestretch and finish third (think Mr. Z in the Smarty Jones Stakes.)
But in examining the entries for the $400,000 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, I must admit that I feel surprisingly confident in the chances of my top selection—and he won’t even be favored! But before I delve into my reasoning, let’s take a quick look at the field:
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||2nd Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||3rd Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||High Noon Rider
||3rd Remington Springboard Mile (VIDEO)|
||1st Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)|
||Juan and Bina
||5th Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)|
||4th Nashua Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Allowance optional claiming race (VIDEO)|
||Richard Violette, Jr.
||3rd Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||Dom the Bomb
||1st Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity (VIDEO)|
||1st Coronation Futurity (VIDEO)|
We’ll begin our analysis by taking a look at the expected favorites, Frosted and Upstart. The first-mentioned colt, one of two horses in the race owned by Godolphin Racing, enters the Holy Bull off a narrow defeat in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), a race in which I firmly believe he was the best horse. Racing wide over a track that was strongly biased toward the rail, Frosted put in a strong challenge in the final furlong but fell a half-length short of catching Leave the Light On, who raced on the rail throughout. On a fairer track, or with more of a ground-saving trip, I believe Frosted would have won decisively.
But although I believe Frosted to be a major contender for the Kentucky Derby, I do have a few concerns about his chances of winning the Holy Bull. My first concern is that the Remsen was not a particularly fast race—on the same day that the talented juvenile filly Condo Commando won the nine-furlong Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) in 1:50.40, the colts in the Remsen required 1:51.06 to complete the same distance.Additionally, Frosted has drawn the rail in the Holy Bull, which isn’t the worst thing with a short run to the first turn—at least we know he will save ground!—but it does open up the possibility that Frosted could get boxed in along the inside with nowhere to run. Frosted has flashed decent tactical speed in his two most recent starts, but that was when tracking moderate half-mile fractions of :47.09 and :48.91, respectively. With the speedy colts High Noon Rider, Bluegrass Singer, and Juan and Bina having drawn posts three, four, and five, Frosted will have to be urged early to avoid getting swallowed up in the run to the first turn, which could severely compromise his chances—think Buddy’s Saint in the 2010 Fountain of Youth Stakes (VIDEO).
As for Upstart, he has done little wrong in four career starts, winning the Funny Cide Stakes and placing in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). On fast tracks and in the slop, in sprints and in routes, on the East Coast and the West Coast, Upstart has put in a solid effort each time. I particularly liked his effort in the Breeders’ Cup, a race in which he finished third after breaking slowly and racing wide on both turns. It’s certainly possible that he could be a bit short in his first start since November 1st, but even still, his combination of tactical speed and a decent draw in post eight should enable him to work out a great trip stalking the pace, and I expect him to be in the mix at the finish.
However, the colt I like best in the Holy Bull—the one I feel surprisingly confident in selecting—is Bluegrass Singer. The son of Bluegrass Cat has actually been cross-entered in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream, but is expected to scratch from that race in favor of a start in the Holy Bull. After examining Bluegrass Singer’s record, and trying to picture how the Holy Bull will unfold, I believe the race is going to set up perfectly for this colt. Consider the following—his front-running style is perfectly suited to the speed-favoring nature of Gulfstream Park, a track at which Bluegrass Singer is 3-for-4 thus far. He has drawn post four with a short run to the first turn, which should enable him to secure the early lead—and likely the rail—without much trouble. And because the Holy Bull is a mile and a sixteenth in distance, the race will end at the sixteenth pole, which won’t leave much time for the stretch-runners to try and reel him in.
Furthermore, I was very impressed by Bluegrass Singer’s effort in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes last time out. In that race, Bluegrass Singer engaged in a four-horse battle for the early lead and triumphed through an opening quarter in :23.10, then threw down a spectacular :21.88-second second quarter that fried his fellow pacesetters, including the talented stakes-placed colt Juan and Bina, who would retreat to be beaten nearly fifteen lengths. Granted, the second quarter-mile fractions in one-mile races at Gulfstream tend to be on the quick side, but even still, Bluegrass Singer’s :21.88 time was exceptional. After setting such a quick pace, it wouldn’t have been shocking had Bluegrass Singer thrown in the towel at the top of the stretch, but instead, he clocked six furlongs in 1:09.39 and burst away from the field to lead by 3 ½ lengths! Bluegrass Singer did tire a bit in the final furlong, finishing up the mile in 1:35.83 while losing a bit of his lead, but he still crossed the wire nearly two lengths in front of stretch-running Ami’s Flatter, with a gap of 8 ¾ lengths back to the third-place finisher. Bluegrass Singer signaled his readiness for the Holy Bull by turning in a bullet :36 flat three-furlong breeze on January 18th at Gulfstream Park West, and with top jockey Javier Castellano back in the saddle again, I think Bluegrass Singer is ready to run a very big race on Saturday.
I would also like to take a moment to mention the other Godolphin runner, First Down. The son of Street Sense won his debut sprinting 6 ½ furlongs at Belmont Park on September 20th (VIDEO), but then finished a disappointing fourth in the one-mile Nashua Stakes (gr. II) on November 1st before taking a bit of a break. He has turned in a steady of series of workouts at Palm Meadows in preparation for this race—although they have been on the slow side—and while he might not be ready to run his very best race, he will be racing on Lasix for the first time this Saturday and figures to improve in his first start around two turns. In any case, he looks like one to watch in the future.
Other Races to Watch
Although the Holy Bull is the only official Kentucky Derby prep race of the week, there are several other interesting stakes races for three-year-olds on schedule that warrant attention, led by the $250,000 California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. The 8.5-furlong race for California-breds was won last year by Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, and this year’s renewal of the race is made particularly intriguing thanks to the presence of the unbeaten Acceptance. The colt has barely been challenged in three starts thus far, including a three-length triumph in the one-mile King Glorious Stakes (VIDEO) at Los Alamitos, a race in which Acceptance helped set a good pace before drawing off through a final quarter in :25.02. In preparation for the California Cup Derby, Acceptance worked a mile in 1:40 1/5 on January 15th and five furlongs in 1:00 flat on January 21st—impressive! It’s worth noting that Acceptance will have to concede seven pounds to each of his seven rivals, including the promising maiden winner Tough Sunday, but I believe Acceptance is a serious Kentucky Derby contender, and I will be watching with interest on Saturday to see how he performs.
I will also have my eye on the $50,000 Allen’s Landing Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park, in which Exodus has drawn post seven in a field of eight. The Larry Jones-trained colt broke his maiden by 8 ¼ lengths last time out at Fair Grounds (VIDEO), clocking six furlongs in 1:10.08 while running the final quarter in a sharp :24.08. He’s the 9-2 third choice on the morning line, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he goes off as the favorite, for his last race was impressive and he appears to have a very bright future.
Who do you like this Saturday?
In order to aid in keeping track of all the Kentucky Derby prep races and results, I will be posting links to the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule and the Kentucky Derby point standings at the bottom of each Unlocking Winners blog post from now until the Derby. Also, here is the link to the complete entries and current standings for our "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Handicapping Challenge. Enjoy the racing!