Holy Bull Starts True Separation on Derby Trail

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12:30 pm EST

By Dick Downey

The Holy Bull Stakes almost always serves as my Kentucky Derby Trail kick-off because it begins the separation of the contenders from the pretenders in what is the most competitive 3-year-old venue in the country at this time of year.

After I scanned the past performance chart, I found I had written down six check-marks and other notes for horses that could jump up and compete. This isn't like last year, when we had two horses, Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday, looking the best going in to many observers.

We'll start on the rail with Coup de Grace. He is one of two confirmed dirt front-runners in this field and could do some damage if he gets away from the gate well. Trainer Chad Brown has been somewhat equivocal about him in his recent comments, but this could be a case of a level-headed trainer not getting overly excited, or there could be other motivations. Regardless, he looks dangerous based on his past performances and recent workouts. One drawback: It's his first race at two turns.

Almost Famous is the other front dirt speed, and his actually looks a little superior to that of Coup de Grace based on the speed figures I am using, but that's not the case when you look at their raw times. I am going to go with the figures. Almost Famous gets to exit the gate outside of Coup de Grace. Calvin Borel is coming in from his Oaklawn base, which is a sign. Borel rode for the same connections when Take Charge Indy made all of the pace winning the 2012 Florida Derby. As trainer Pat Byrne said, Almost Famous won his most recent race in a gallop, and it was two turns.

Wicked Strong is a jockey play. Javier Castellano rode Coup de Grace in both of his races, winning each. But he has departed Brown and Coup de Grace for Jimmy Jerkens and Wicked Strong. This sends a strong signal, of course, and entices me to ignore the erraticism showed by Wicked Strong in the stretch of the Remsen Stakes.

Of course you have to include Cairo Prince in any serious discussion of this race. He has done almost nothing wrong, and Luis Saez takes the blame for his nose loss in the Remsen. His dosage index is extraordinarily high, 7.00, but you have to believe Kiaran McLaughlin believes 1 1/16 mile should be well within his scope. He was an easy winner in the one-mile Nashua Stakes.

Mr Speaker will probably get a lot of attention because he comes from the barn of the the 2013 Kentucky Derby winner and Phipps Stable, co-owner of Orb, and because he was an impressive-looking winner of the Dania Beach Stakes on turf. Shug McGaughey says his dad and mom both ran well on dirt, and they did; and the trainer says the horse has performed well in workouts on dirt and doesn't mind taking kickback. It seems like you almost have to include him. I am going to deviate from my norm, which is simply name four selections, and put him on a second tier. That is how much I respect this operation, but I am not calling him to win because it's his first dirt race.

Speaking of respect, Intense Holiday runs for Todd Pletcher and Starlight racing. He was 10-1 in the Remsen and finished fourth, compromised by the ridiculously slow early pace. His odds may be higher than we're accustomed to seeing in a 3-year-old from this operation. Intense Holiday has the misfortune of drawing the outside post 11 with a short run to the turn, and that is a shame, because he has shown promise in three straight graded stakes. I am going to put him in the same space as Mr. Speaker, using him as an extra horse on the bottom of the exacta play. If he wins, his future odds plummet.

Best Plan Yet comes back after an awful showing in the Gulfstream Park Derby. This will probably result in very long odds after he was 6-1 in that race. He has run really well at Calder, but he ran really poorly at Gulfstream Park. Is it the track, or did he just have a bad day? There is no way to know.

Conquest Titan is very alluring because he looked so impressive winning at Churchill Downs on Nov. 30. He is going to sit back and make one run. Whether that will work at Gulfstream Park, we will see. One thing I did notice, however, is that Conquest Titan's best races have all come at one turn -- and he has not run well at two turns. Trainer Mark Cassie says that is his own fault for not recognizing that Conquest Titan needs to lay back and make one run. But, again, whether that tactic will work at this distance at Gulfstream Park is another question.

An age-old adage says three works in 10 days is a potent handicapping angle. It fits Financial Mogul, who breezed three times Jan. 8-17 at Palm Meadows. There was one unbelievably slow six-furlong move, followed by a sharp five-furlong move and a one-mile stamina breeze. This will be his first effort at two turns after making a good run in the Nashua to finish second to Cairo Prince. Based on theses factor, it's hard to know how he'll come out.

Our Caravan comes into the race off a maiden win at two turns at the track. Despite the positives, I want to see another race first.

Big Bazinga has ambitious connections, and he could very well do a lot of damage in this race at long odds based on recent workouts and his second-place finish in the Gray Stakes on synthetic track; however, it's hard for me to get behind him after his poor performance on dirt in the Delta Jackpot and due to his wide post position 10.

On top of the exacta:

with the four above and

Saturday, R10
Grade III Holy Bull Stakes
Gulfstream Park
1 1/16 Mile
Post Time: 5:03 ET

Post   Horse  ML  Jockey Wt Trainer
1 Coup de Grace (KY) 4-1 J. Velazquez 116 C. Brown
2 Financial Mogul (KY) 10-1 J. Ortiz 116 R. Violette Jr.
3 Best Plan Yet (FL) 20-1 E. Zayas 120 S. Gold
4 Almost Famous (KY) 8-1 C. Borel 116 P. Byrne
5 Our Caravan (KY) 15-1 C. Lanerie 116 M. Dilger
6 Mr Speaker (KY) 5-1 J. Lezcano 120 C. McGaughey III
7 Cairo Prince (KY) 3-1 L. Saez 122 K. McLaughlin
8 Wicked Strong (KY) 8-1 J. Castellano 116 J. Jerkens
9 Conquest Titan (KY) 12-1 S. Bridgmohan 116 M. Casse
10 Big Bazinga (KY) 20-1 J. Bravo 116 K. Vassilleva
11 Intense Holiday (KY) 6-1 J. Rosario 116 T. Pletcher

All will run with Lasix but Mr Speaker

Owners: 1 - Fox Hill Farms, Inc. ; 2 - Klaravich Stables, Inc. and William H. Lawrence ; 3 - Jacks or Better Farm, Inc. ; 4 - Charles and Maribeth Sandford LLC ; 5 - Anstu Stables, Inc. ; 6 - Phipps Stable ; 7 - Harvey A. Clarke, W. Craig Robertson III, Paul Braverman, and J. Terrence Murray ; 8 - Centennial Farms ; 9 - Conquest Stables, LLC ; 10 - Derby Dreamers Racing Stable ; 11 - Starlight Racing

Breeders: 1 - AGS Thoroughbreds Ltd.; 2 - Atlas Farm et al; 3 - Jacks or Better Farm Inc.; 4 - Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC; 5 - Hare Forest Farm, LTD.; 6 - Phipps Stable; 7 - Richard L. Elam & Katherine H. Elam; 8 - William F. Lynn; 9 - Michael Edward Connelly; 10 - Sheltowee Farm, Alfonso Mazzetti, Dr.Robert J Hunt & Rodney Winkle; 11 - Machmer Hall & Haymarket Farm