Will Audible Upset the Holy Bull Stakes?

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 against him.

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 winning.

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 Stakes?


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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.

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