Three Kentucky Derby prep races are scheduled to be run
across the country on Saturday afternoon, though in terms of purse, prestige,
and possibly competition, the standout by far is the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
The 8.5-furlong race-which features a short run to the
first turn and an abbreviated run down the homestretch (they'll finish at the
sixteenth pole)-attracted a large field of eleven horses, including the accomplished
Enticed. Trained by Kiaran
McLaughlin, who has won the Holy Bull twice in the last four years, Enticed
made a name for himself as a two-year-old by competing with success against top
company. He won his debut at Saratoga with a sharp late run sprinting six
furlongs over a muddy track, then stretched out to a mile in the Champagne
Stakes (gr. I) and ran well against a deep field, re-rallying to finish third
behind the likes of Firenze Fire and Good Magic (both of them graded stakes
winners) despite dropping back partway through the race.
Enticed wrapped up his 2017 campaign by shipping to
Churchill Downs and scoring a determined victory in the 8.5-furlong Kentucky
Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II). Despite racing wide and giving the impression of
not being completely focused, Enticed took the lead in the homestretch and held
off a stiff challenge from Tiz Mischief over
the final 2 ½ furlongs to win by a head.
Enticed has drawn well in post one and figures to work
out an ideal trip stalking the pace while saving ground, though in terms of
speed figures he has yet to run particularly fast (his career-best Beyer is an
84), and his reputation as a graded stakes winner guarantees that he'll start
at a short price. In addition, he'll be carrying 122 pounds and conceding six
pounds to many of his rivals-under the circumstances, I'm tempted to play
I feel the same way about Free Drop Billy, who will also carry 122 pounds. Trained by Dale
Romans, the son of Union Rags posted a four-length victory in the Breeders' Futurity
(gr. I) at Keeneland last fall, but the race came back slow on the Beyer scale
(he received a 79) and he subsequently finished a distant ninth in the Breeders'
Cup Juvenile (gr. I). While I think he's better than his Breeders' Cup effort
and will fare better in the Holy Bull, Free Drop Billy is another colt whose
reputation might lead to short odds that don't necessarily match his chances of
Also, as a deep closer, Free Drop Billy is reliant on a good
trip and a solid pace to set up his late run, circumstances that may not come
his way in the Holy Bull given the large field and the relative lack of dedicated
front-runners. This could also put Free Drop Billy's stablemate Tiz Mischief at a disadvantage, since
he shares the same running style.
With all of this in mind, and with Mississippi and Hollywood
Star both expected to scratch, I've decided to take a chance with Audible for the top spot. Racing for
the high-profile team of trainer Todd Pletcher and owners WinStar Farm, China
Horse Club International, and SF Racing, Audible sold for $500,000 as a
two-year-old in training and is off to a sharp start as a racehorse. After
finishing third in his debut at Belmont despite dropping 18 lengths off the
early pace, Audible took a big step forward when stretched out to a mile at
Aqueduct, rallying to defeat the next-out maiden winners Honor Up and Violent
Dreams in decisive fashion.
In his third and most recent start, Audible faced just
three rivals in a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Aqueduct. He
didn't beat much, but he did it the right way, tracking fractions of :23.49 and
:46.45 before seizing the lead and pulling away to win by 9 ¾ lengths, with the
third-place finisher another 14 ½ lengths behind. The final time was a quick
1:36.57, which translated to a Beyer speed figure of 84, equal to the highest
figure earned thus far by Enticed.
The four-time Eclipse Award-winning rider Javier
Castellano will retain the mount, and Audible gets into the race carrying just
116 pounds. He's drawn well in post four and should be able to work out a nice
trip rating a few lengths off the lead, and from there, it's just a question of
whether he can compete against a field of this caliber. I think he can.
I'll also take a look at Tip Sheet as a live longshot. Last time out, a bad stumble at the
start of an allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream caused his jockey to
briefly lose one of the stirrups, and the result was that Tip Sheet fell far
off the early pace. Even without this mishap, Tip Sheet probably wasn't going
to defeat the front-running pair of Noble Indy and Mississippi, two talented
colts that recorded a fast winning time, but Tip Sheet nevertheless unleashed a
big rally around the far turn and stayed on gamely in the homestretch to finish
third, pulling 6 ¼ lengths clear of the rest of the field while hardly losing
any ground against Noble Indy and Mississippi. With a better trip in the Holy
Bull, I think Tip Sheet can finish on the board at a big price.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Holy Bull
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge is back for the fourth consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the contest page. 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 www.theturfboard.com.