The first major prep race for the 2014 Kentucky Derby takes place this Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the 2014 Holy Bull Stakes, which in turn, makes it our Horse Racing Race of the Week for this week. The one and one sixteenth miles, Grade: 2 race drew a full field of 11 and carries a purse of $400,000 with the enormously talented 2013 Nashua Stakes winner Cairo Prince listed as the generous 3-1 morning line favorite.
Before we break down the Holy Bull, like always, I just wanted to point out several other key races being run around the country this weekend as well.
The Forward Gal Stakes, which will be run on the Saturday card at Gulfstream and just three races before the Holy Bull, for three year old fillies at seven furlongs is one you should probably watch.
That race, which has a list of past winners including Dame Mysterieuse, Miss Oceana, Open Mind, Forever Together and, last years winner the fleet Kauai Kate, drew a field of six with the unbeaten Onlyforyou and the improving Resistivity looking like the ones to beat.
Sam Houston RacePark in Texas will host the 2014 Houston Ladies Classic also on Saturday. The one and a sixteenth miles event for $400,000 will feature 4 year olds and up fillies and mares with the ultra consistent Class Included spearheading the field of eight.
I like Class Included, who is batting better than .500 in her career with 12 wins in 23 starts (and seven second places finishes) and I also think Rose to Gold might improve off her 2014 debut and run well also in this race.
Out at Santa Anita Park in California, the tenth race on Saturday’s card is the California Cup Derby for three year olds going (yet another) mile and a sixteenth for $250,000.
Tamarando, who is as consistent as the day is long, looks to be the one to beat in that race.
Tamarando, a stretch running son of Bertrando, is looking to bounce back after being torched by eventual two year old male champion Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity in his last start. The good news is this dark bay colt looks to be in an excellent spot to return to his winning ways.
Just as side note, I also expect California Chrome to run well also in the field of 11
Gulfstream Park – Saturday, January 25, 2014
Race 10 – 5:03 PM
Holy Bull Stakes (Grade: 2)
For Three Year Olds
One And One Sixteenth Miles
|1||1||Coup de Grace||3/C||L||J R Velazquez||116||C C Brown||
|2||2||Financial Mogul||3/C||L||J L Ortiz||116||R A Violette, Jr.||
|3||3||Best Plan Yet||3/C||L||E J Zayas||120||S I Gold||
|4||4||Almost Famous||3/C||L||C H Borel||116||P B Byrne||
|5||5||Our Caravan||3/C||L||C J Lanerie||116||M Dilger||
|6||6||Mr Speaker||3/C||J Lezcano||120||C R McGaughey III||
|7||7||Cairo Prince||3/C||L||L Saez||122||K P McLaughlin||
|8||8||Wicked Strong||3/C||L||J Castellano||116||J A Jerkens||
|9||9||Conquest Titan||3/C||L||S Bridgmohan||116||M E Casse||
|10||10||Big Bazinga||3/G||L||J Bravo||116||K Vassilieva||
|11||11||Intense Holiday||3/C||L||J Rosario||116||T A Pletcher||
1) Cairo Prince– as I stated in my intro, this colt by Pioneerof the Nile has shown an enormous amount of talent after just three career races.
After winning his debut(maiden) race by 2 ½ lengths on Oct 6, he went straight into a grade: 2 race (the Nov 3, Nashua at Aqueduct) and, after laying off the early pace, absolutely exploded on the far turn and quickly opened up five lengths on the field by the quarter pole. From there, jockey Luis Saez simply put it on cruise control and as a team they strolled home 2 ½ lengths in front.
But it really wasn’t until this colt’s last race (the Nov 11 Remsen Stakes, also at Aqueduct), that he really, really impressed me.
In the Remsen, even after a horrendous error in judgment by Saez, this horse still found himself in nothing short of ferocious battle down the stretch against, clearly one of the best two year old last year, Honor Code. (In case you missed it, here it is again and I’ll go ahead and tell you, this was one of the top 3 or 4 stretch runs I’d seen all year last year)
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin attributed the Remsen loss to a six-pound weight advantage in Honor Code’s favor and his rider’s error in judgment.
“It was a tough race and he knows he made a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes,” said McLaughlin, who was critical of Saez for falling into the trap of an extremely slow early pace and allowing Honor Code to rally inside of him. “He knows the horse and he knows not to make the same mistakes.”
“When you get on the Derby trail, they’re all going to be tough (races). I think we have a really nice horse, and I wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” McLaughlin added.
I don’t have any real concerns about the almost two months since his last start as he’s been working right along the whole time including two back to back strong five furlong works (Jan 5- :59.3 & Jan 12- :59.4) at Palm Meadows. The handsome gray then followed those up with a sharp half-mile breeze (also at Palm Meadows) in :48.2 (out in 1:00.4) last Sunday morning.
“We couldn’t be happier. It was exactly what we were looking for,” McLaughlin said of Sunday’s work “He’s ready to go.”…yes, it certainly appears he is.
2) Wicked Strong – closed well to be second to a runway winner (Manhattan Johnnie) over a sloppy track in his debut (Sept 21). I know that race well, because yours truly (and some friends) also had a horse running in that same race
This bay colt by the gorgeous Hard Spun then bounced back about five weeks later to break his maiden at Belmont (over a fast track) by two lengths.
The $375,000 Keeneland yearling sale purchases’ career gets a lot more interesting from there.
His third race was also in the 2013 Remsen Stakes and with everyone (including myself) so focused on thrilling stretch drive that Honor Code and Cairo Prince were putting on, no-one seemed to notice this horse was charging hard at the end.
Did anyone notice he was just a half a length behind Cairo Prince in that race? Moreover, he was beaten a half length to those two after trying to close into pace that saw a :52.3 half mile and a molasses like 1:17.2 for six furlongs.
His speed figures have climbed with each subsequent race (72, 81 and 87), signaling a still improving horse.
Lastly, I like that stamina building, one mile work (1:40) at Palm Meadows on Jan 11 and the follow up work of 5F- 1:00.3 on Jan. 21.
You have to figure he’ll get a faster pace to close (anything would be faster than that Remsen pace) into come Saturday afternoon….no way on earth he should be 8-1 on the morning line. Good horse, with a good chance to run well and at a good value as well.
3) Mr. Speaker- has some pretty serious bloodlines going on being by top ranked sire Pulpit (by A.P. Indy) out of a mare named Salute, who in turn is by Unbridled out of none other than the great Personal Ensign.
This horse finished sixth in his career debut (Aug 24) but began to get the hang of it in his second start (Sept 21) where, after probably taking the lead too soon, finished a solid third.
From there, and in his third race, he led every step of the way to finally break his maiden by almost three lengths.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with Orb, then gave him nine weeks off and changed his running style and both tactics worked like a charm.
He then came back in the Grade: 3 Dania Beach Stakes at GulfstreamPark and this horse responded beautifully. After being taken back to sixth position early, he came with a very impressive stretch drive to win the race “drawing away” by 2 ¾’s lengths.
The only question mark about this colt was that all four of the aforementioned races were on the turf.
After the Dania Beach, McGaughey couldn’t resist the temptation to try him on the main track and I don’t blame him one bit.
“I think he’s equipped to make the jump (in class). It’s a matter whether he’ll make the jump from turf to dirt. He’s already done it on the turf. He went from a maiden to a grade: 3, we’ll just have to see if he does it on the dirt”.
A final decision was made this past Monday to run him in the Holy Bull after watching the horse work four furlongs on the dirt in :49.2
“I just wanted to see how he’d handle the dirt, and he handled it fine.He’s trained good on the dirt all along. I thought somewhere along the line I was going to give him this kind of opportunity,” McGaughey said. “I didn’t know it was going to be now but this is something I did have on my mind to give him the opportunity.”
He is another with improving speed figures (50, 72, 81 and 90 in his four races) and if he does take to the dirt surface, he could be a menace.
Coup de Grace, I’m not sure how you make a horse, who albeit is 2 for 2 in his career and is loaded with early speed, a 4-1 second choice in Grade: 2 race after a) never having gone this far in distance, b) trying two turns for the first time and c) taking a big step up in company. Although he is well bred colt (by Tapit out of a Storm Bird mare… that the owners paid $300,000 for him), and from a winning barn (Chad Brown), I still think it’s asking a lot of him. “He’s unproven around two turns, and it’s a real test for him,” Brown said, after watching Coup de Grace zip four furlongs in :47.2 a few days ago in preparation for this race. “I think it’s that time of year to try him around two turns and then we can figure out how to campaign him the rest of the year.”…that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement by Brown to me, but he might run well anyway. Financial Mogul was 11th of 12 early in the Nashua Stakes on Nov. 3 but weaved his way thru traffic and was closing the gap late to eventual winner (and today’s top choice) Cairo’s Prince….merits betting consideration based off that race and could surprise especially if there is a fast pace here. Intense Holiday, who comes into this race with a steady stream of works under his belt, was beaten fair and square twice by Cairo Prince the last two times he’s faced him. But you almost have to respect any three year old trainer Todd Pletcher runs at Gulfstream Park. Our Caravan made up 11 ½ lengths (he trailed by 8 ½ lengths early, but blew past the field to win by 3) to wallop a field maidens at almost 36-1 odds in his racing debut. That race was visually impressive to watch but the speed figure (75) makes me hesitate a bit….long-shot possibility??
2014 Record: 2-4= 50%
2013 Record: 20-59 = 34%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** With my “Countdown to the Triple Crown” almost ready to make it’s 2014 debut, it appears as though Tanzanite Cat and Vicar’s in Trouble will make the first round of the list.
Tanzanite Cat broke running, gave up the early lead down the back side but came storming back down the stretch to win the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes by 1 ½ lengths for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park this past Monday.
The final time 1:38.3 on a fast track was a bit pedestrian but you have to like the courage he displayed and the fact that distance shouldn’t be a problem for him down the road.
I thought Tanzanite Cat’s effort was the best of last weekend’s racing but I may have spoken too soon as Vicar’s in Trouble may have been even more impressive
Vicar’s in Trouble manhandled the field in the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds last Saturday as he ran away to win by almost seven lengths
“Well, he’s staying on this circuit (Louisiana) for now, so we’ll probably be taking a look at the next one,” said Joe Sharp, assistant to trainer Mike Maker, in reference to the Feb. 22 Risen Star Stakes.
“That horse can really run,” rival trainer Larry Jones said. “Where did they find him? I thought we were in pretty good position with Albano at the top of the stretch and then that winner just drew off.”
Sharp, husband of rider Rosie Napravnik, had the line of the week when asked how the winner came out of the Lecomte, Sharp said:
Vicar’s in Trouble was “not taxed” by his effort and “ate up well afterwards, in fact he even tried to eat me this morning.”
**** The highly regarded and aforementioned Honor Code, who is coming off minor surgery to remove an undescended testicle, galloped Sunday morning at PaysonPark in Florida after breezing three furlongs in :38 flat the day before.
“I think everything is in good shape,” said trainer Shug McGaughey, who is pointing the son of the great A.P. Indy to the $400,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Feb. 22.
**** After missing a recently scheduled workout with a slight quarter crack, 2013 two year old champion Shared Belief is to have his next work today (Friday, Jan. 24.) trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said.
The son of Candy Ride is being pointed for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park Feb. 8 but Hollendorfer said today’s work would tell the tale as to if he would go in the race or not.
Hollendorfer was a little upset about speculation that Shared Belief would not be able to make the Lewis because of the injury and might instead run in the San Felipe Stakes March 8 at Santa Anita.
“He’s been working every day for the past two weeks. But that doesn’t seem to matter. They (the media) just make this stuff up,” Hollendorfer said.
“I haven’t made my mind up (about Shared Belief’s next start),” he added. “That’s coming from me.”
Hollendorfer’s assistant, Dan Ward, described the injury as minor. “If it was any other horse, we wouldn’t even be talking about it,” he said.
**** Veteran trainer Thomas H. Voss, known for both his success in the steeplechase world and with runners on the flat, died this past Tuesday of an apparent heart attack at his home in Monkton, Md. He was 63.
Voss, who won five National Steeplechase championship titles as leading trainer (1997, 2000-2002, 2011) was the driving force behind Slip Away’s Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase campaign in 2010.
As far as flat racing was concerned, Voss’s greatest success was with John’s Call, who became North America’s oldest grade:1 winner when he won the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga in 2000 at age 9.
Among other stakes winners trained by Voss on the flat were Always First, Dreadnaught, and Royal Bench.
Although Voss conditioned Thoroughbreds both over fences and on the flat, he stated no preference for one or the other.
“There is more action in steeplechase races,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2008. “But there are more chances to race in flat races. I get the same kick out of both.”
**** In case you’re interested, keep an eye out when Monday’s card at Aqueduct is drawn. My partners and I have entered King Kongrats in a race and, if it fills, he will run….especially after posting a strong :36.4 three furlong work this past Tuesday.