J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
On Saturday, the most important Kentucky Derby prep race so far in 2016 will be
held at Gulfstream Park, that being the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III).
The 8.5-furlong race serves as the first of three major prep races at
Gulfstream Park, and in recent years, the race has drawn such standout early
Derby favorites as Upstart, Frosted, Cairo Prince, Itsmyluckyday, Shanghai
Bobby, Hansen, and Dialed In. This year's Holy Bull is no exception, for the
heavy favorite is Mohaymen, an
undefeated two-time graded stakes winner that could establish himself as a
clear-cut Derby favorite with a win in the Holy Bull. Let's take a look at the
|8th Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
|1st Remsen Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
|5th Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)
|Conquest Big E
|1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
|7th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
|3rd Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
As Mohaymen prepares for his 2016 debut, the
question that many are asking is simple: Is Mohaymen the real deal? Can he
become the first Holy Bull runner to win the Kentucky Derby since Barbaro in
So far, all has gone well, and Mohaymen has
stamped himself as a colt of exceptional quality. In his debut on September 19th
at Belmont Park, he got involved in a stiff battle for the lead with
Seymourdini, but gamely prevailed by a half-length in the sharp time of 1:10.16
for six furlongs. Seymourdini has since come back to win impressively, and the
third-place finisher-King Kranz-is a stakes winner that will run in the Withers
Stakes (gr. III) on Saturday.
Mohaymen's second start came in the one-mile
Nashua Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, and after acting up at the gate before the
race, he showed a new dimension settling near the back of the pack before
rallying on the outside to win by 1 ¾ lengths over Flexibility. Most recently,
in the November 28th Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct, Mohaymen
ran his best race to date, saving ground and getting dirt kicked in his face
before splitting horses in the homestretch to take command and win by 1 ½
lengths over Flexibility.
For his efforts, Mohaymen has received
increasing Beyer speed figures of 87, 89, and 95, and the strength of the
Remsen Stakes was confirmed when Flexibility came back to win the Jerome Stakes
(gr. III) with ease. In a race that seems almost completely lacking in early
speed, Mohaymen-by virtue of his front-running maiden win-might very well find
himself on the lead in the Holy Bull. Given the way that Gulfstream Park tends
to favor speed, this could be a major advantage, and as a result, it's
difficult to envision a scenario in which Mohaymen loses this race. Although he
will be a short price, he is my selection to win.
Assuming Mohaymen wins, the battle for second
place should be between Greenpointcrusader
and Conquest Big E, and I'll
give a slight edge to the latter. Trained by Mark Casse, Conquest Big E has
shown good tactical speed throughout his career, particularly when winning a
one-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs last time out. In the Breeders' Cup
Juvenile, Conquest Big E got a very tricky trip racing in between horses and was
never able to settle into a good position, so under the circumstances, his
eighth-place finish-beaten just 4 ¾ lengths-wasn't as bad as it first appears.
It's true that both of his victories have come on sloppy, sealed tracks, but he
did finish second to Brody's Cause in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill over
a dry track after hopping at the start and being rank early on. My feeling is
that we haven't seen Conquest Big E's best yet, and the fact that Mike Smith is
flying in to ride Conquest Big E is a positive sign. Starting from post
position four, Conquest Big E should be able to work out a great trip stalking
Mohaymen early on, putting him in the position to steal the spotlight should
Mohaymen falter in the homestretch.
As for Greenpointcrusader,
he unleashes an impressive finish to win his second start at Saratoga last
summer by a neck, then relished the sloppy conditions in the Champagne Stakes
(gr. I) to rally from sixth and win by a dominating 4 ½ lengths, good for a
Beyer speed figure of 94. The runner-up, Sunny Ridge, came back to finish
second by a nose in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III), and while
Greenpointcrusader didn't bring his best race in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile-he
finished seventh by 4 ¼ lengths-he also endured a bad trip racing in between
horses and rallying wide in the homestretch, so I think his performance can be
Still, it's worth noting that
Greenpointcrusader is a half-brother to Algorithms and Justin Phillip, two
colts that absolutely loved sloppy tracks, so Greenpointcrusader still has to
prove that he can replicate his Champagne performance over a dry track.
Additionally, as a closer in a race without much pace, he might be at a slight
disadvantage chasing Mohaymen and Conquest Big E early on, making it harder for
him to rally in the homestretch. Finally, as a grade I winner, he will be
carrying the top weight of 122 pounds, two more than Mohaymen and six more than
Conquest Big E. For these reasons, I think Greenpointcrusader looks more likely
to finish third than second this Saturday, although down the road-in races with
a different pace scenario and different weight assignments-I think he could
turn the tables.
I'd also like to briefly mention Fellowship, who finished second in the
Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream before running fifth in the Mucho Macho Man
Stakes. In the latter race, he never really had a chance while trying to close
from off the pace while racing wide, but he did make a big move in the second
quarter to reach striking range before tiring. A return to two turns for the
Holy Bull could help his chances, and if the pace is slow, he has shown enough
tactical speed to suggest that he could settle fairly close to the early lead.
He is my choice to round out the superfecta.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the
Holy Bull Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.