By Dick Downey
After a perfect trip, Cairo Prince won the Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 5 3/4 lengths in near-track record time and will move on down the road toward the Kenttucky Derby.
Luis Saez and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin agreed on at least one thing after Cairo Prince lost the Remsen Stakes by a nose to Honor Coded last November -- the jockey failed to urge Cairo Prince enough in the stretch, costing him the win. “He knows he made a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes,” McLaughlin said on Jan. 20.
But McLaughlin showed confidence in the jockey, and Saez gave Cairo Prince a picture-perfect ride in the Holy Bull, sitting in the three path and keeping him out of trouble as instructed by McLaughlin, and the result was a dominant win.
Sitting behind contested early fractions of :23.63, :46.75 and 1:10.30 set by Coup de Grace and Almost Famous, Cairo Prince was in striking position leaving the second turn. Coup de Grace had suddenly dropped out of contention, and Almost Famous had the lead but was beginning to tire a bit. Mr Speaker was making a move at the leader, but began dropping back. Cairo Prince suddenly moved away from Almost Famous as Conquest Titan and Intense Holiday made belated runs to take second and third place, separated by a half-length at the finish line.
Almost Famous came in another three-quarter length back in fourth, and Best Plan Yet was a neck behind him. The remaining order of finish was Financial Mogul, Mr Speaker, Our Caravan, Wicked Strong, Coup de Grace and Big Bazinga.
The Mark Casse-trained Conquest Titan and Shaun Bridgmohan were last in the 11-horse field, 9 1/4 lengths off the pace, after a half mile. With no option other than the overland route, they circled the field to get into contention.
Kentucky Derby points were on the line. Cairo Prince picked up 10, and 4,2 and 1 went to Conquest Titan, Intense Holiday and Almost Famous, respectively.
Intense Holiday, trained by Todd Pletcher, had the misfortune of drawing the outside post with a short run to the first turn. Joel Rosario didn't want to go wide there, and he found himself in tenth position after the first half-mile. Like Conquest Titan, Intense Holiday went around the pack to gain ground.
The biggest disappointments in the race were Coup de Grace and Wicked Strong. Coup de Grace was, according the to the chart maker, checked in tight quarters on the final turn and never recovered. He was sent off as the second choice at 3-1 odds. Wicked Strong, the 4-1 third choice off an 8-1 morning line, partially on the strength of Javier Castellano being on his back for the first time, essentially ran in place in eighth position much of the way before checking in ninth.
The final time of 1:44.16 was 35/100 second off the stakes record and was less than one-half second off the track record of 1:41.73 set by older horse River Seven on Dec. 22, 2013. The time was faster exactly one-half second faster than that recorded by Top Billing, a blooming Kentucky Derby contender, in an allowance optional claiming race earlier on the card..
McLaughlin said after the race that the Fountain of Youth Stakes in next on the calendar, but of course that's subject to Cairo Prince coming out of the race well.
Cairo Prince, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, is owned by Namcook Stables, Paul Braverman, Harvey A. Clarke and W. Craig Robertson, III. He was bred in Kentucky by Richard L. Elam and Katherine H. Elam. Out of the Holy Bull mare Holy Bubbette, he fetched $250,000 at the Keeneland September 2012 Yearling Sale. He was foaled on Feb. 17, 2011.
Kiaran McLaughlin: "I was just very pleased with where we were sitting. We wanted to be kind of in the three path in the clear, and he rode it perfectly, and it was just a great trip. I wasn't woried about fractions as long as he didn't get in trouble. Yes, very talented horse. I just hope I keep him going to the first Saturday in May." Next race? "Fountain of Youth Feb. 22 most likely, but we'll see how he's doing.
“I love for the horse to make the statement, but it’s hard not to get excited when you have these kind. He just had a beautiful trip and he asked him, he responded. He won carrying 122, giving a lot of weight away. Obviously, we’ll look at the Fountain of Youth Feb. 22 or we could wait until the Florida Derby. We’ll see how it goes. I hope he stays as good as he is today. He’ll have one or two more.
“Obviously, we’re holding a strong hand with this colt. We feel very confident moving forward. You just hope we keep going forward because things happen to horses all the time. We just want to keep him the same happy and healthy horse and keep going.
"We gave (Honor Code) six pounds (in the Remsen) and got beat a nose. We felt we were the best horse and we’re marching on. There are plenty of good horses out there and we hope we can keep making it.
“He trains exceptionally well. He’s got a great mind. A lot of times, you don’t get those two things in the same package. He does everything right and he is a neat horse to be around. He’s got a great stride and a great mind.”
Luis Saez: “He broke so well, and the whole race I kept him in the clear. When we got to the half-mile pole, I know I have a lot of horse. When we got to the three-eighths pole, I knew I could win the race, so when we came into the stretch I asked him and he responded. He just took off. I had so much horse. He’s a nice horse.
“I felt like I was in control pretty much. I didn’t have any trouble. I know everyone wanted to beat me, so I kept him in the clear, and when we came into the stretch I felt I was going to win the race. He’s very special. He’s one of the best horses I’ve ridden in my life. I have to say thanks for Kiaran McLaughlin and the owners for the chance to ride him.”
Mark Casse (Conquest Titan, 2nd): “It was a nice run, we were happy with it. We had hoped to not be so far back, but going into the first turn, they sandwiched him, so Shaun (Bridgmohan) did the right thing and took him back. This is not the easiest place to come from out of it. We wanted to know if he fit with these horses, and I think he proved that today. He has a special place he likes really well (Churchill Downs) and they run there on the first Saturday in May, so that’s good. I’ll have to talk to the owner, but we’ll probably stay here.”
Todd Pletcher (Intense Holiday): "I thought he ran super. It was a tough post (11), but we were able to get a pretty good trip from there. He put in a really good middle move, and then I think he maybe hung a little bit, but he made up a lot of ground. The winner was very good today, but I’m pleased with his effort."
Chad Brown, trainer (Coup de Grace): “He broke bad and then he rushed up. He just wasn’t comfortable there, pulling; it just wasn’t the trip I was looking for.”