McGaughey Looks Ahead With Derby Contenders

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3:02 pm EST

Trainer Shug McGaughey is still sorting out the pecking order of his 3-year-old colts, but Top Billing stamped himself as one to watch with his impressive allowance win at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Meanwhile, he's regrouping with Mr Speaker.

Making only his third lifetime start in an allowance optional claiming race, the chestnut colt trailed the field early but circled it on the far turn while hand-ridden by Joel Rosario. The son of Curlin was timed in 1:42.66, just a few ticks off of the track record of 1:41.73 set by River Seven in December. Top Billing earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance.

“I’m not sure who was behind him,” McGaughey offered. “On paper it looked maybe better than it was, but for him to get back and make a run like that…he was an easy winner. I was impressed with him.”

It's unlikely Top Billing will face stable mate Honor Code in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 22, but a stakes outing somewhere is likely.

“I’ll have to see how he comes out of it and I’ll speak to Mr. Farish the first of the week,” McGaughey said. “I’ll figure out what he wants to do and how much pressure he wants to put on him.”

Racing for the partnership of breeders William S. Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr., Top Billing has now won two of three career appearances and $56,835. In his previous start, the 3-year-old lost a narrow decision to Commissioner, a highly regarded colt from the Todd Pletcher barn, in a Gulfstream allowance on Jan. 3. Commissioner breezed today for the first time since that race.

Mr Speaker Back to Turf

McGaughey also saddled Mr Speaker in the Holy Bull. It was the dirt debut for the Phipps Stable homebred that won his last two starts on turf, including the Dania Beach Stakes. That form didn’t transfer in the Holy Bull. Sent off as the 8-1 fourth choice, the Pulpit colt raced in third in the early stages before fading to finish seventh.

“I was a little surprised that he was up that close, but the winner was sitting right on his tail,” McGaughey pointed out. “I think at this point he’s going to be better on the grass, so we’ll go back to grass. I think the (3-year-olds) back around here are pretty good.”

McGaughey mentioned the Palm Beach Stakes on March 1 as a possible target for Mr Speaker.

Edited Gulfstream Park release with additional content by Dick Downey