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By Anthony “The Big A” Stabile
Unlike a majority of sports fan who are focused on nothing else but the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl when the holidays are over, I go from singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to humming My Old Kentucky home as soon as the Christmas decorations come down.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big sports fan but the thing I will be most concerned with next Sunday at the Super Bowl party I will be at next week is where the winners of the Withers and Sam F. Davis, both to be run on Saturday, are pointing next. And, of course, if there is any of Eddie’s famous chili left for the second half.
We haven’t even gotten to February yet and so much has already happened on the Triple Crown Trail (like 14 different winners of the 14 races that offered 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner) that we’ll use this week to play catch-up. And what better place to start than the Holy Bull, run this past Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Arguably the toughest Holy Bull ever carded and easily the most contentious prep, on paper, this year, eleven lined up in the gate and I wouldn’t have been surprised if any one of eight got the money and the points. On the racetrack, however, Cairo Prince had other ideas, and turned the Holy Bull into one-horse show.
Under a patient, confident Luis Saez, Cairo Prince made the lead on the far turn after sitting off of honest early fractions and powered away to a near six-length victory. Already a stakes winner having taken the Nashua at Aqueduct last fall, Cairo Prince lost a heartbreaking nose photo to Honor Code in the Remsen at the Big A to finish off his juvenile campaign.
In both the Nashua and Remsen, Cairo Prince seemed to lack focus. While he won the Nashua impressively, I feel like he pulled himself up once he opened up a big lead and waited on horse and did nearly the same thing when he looked to put away Honor Code during their stretch battle in the Remsen.
That focus was there on Saturday as he put away both Almost Famous and Mr. Speaker on the turn before leveling off nicely and drawing away, something he did not do in his last two starts. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Cairo Prince would likely run next in either the Fountain of Youth on February 22nd or wait for the Florida Derby on March 29th. Both races are run at Gulfstream Park.
Holy Bull runner-up Conquest Titan is one I would love to see run elsewhere next out, namely in one of the preps at the Fair Grounds. In the Holy Bull, Conquest Titan was taken immediately to last and to the rail from post 9 by Shaun Bridgmohan in accordance with his newfound running style that was used to take a one mile allowance contest at Churchill Downs in his final start last year. He closed nicely while widest of all on the far turn at Gulfstream and while at no point did it appear he’d run the winner down, that short stretch didn’t help his chances any.
Intense Holiday grabbed the show dough in the Holy Bull from outside post 11 and made up some ground in the lane but wasn’t as impressive as Conquest Titan though they were separated by just half a length. Almost Famous stayed on to finish fourth after inheriting the lead approaching the turn but offered little fight coming off of the far turn.
The biggest disappointments in the Holy Bull had to be Coup de Grace, Wicked Strong and to a lesser extent, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker won the Dania Beach on grass last out and was making his first dirt start in the Holy Bull. He stayed close to the lead and may have even stuck his head in front on the turn but from the quarter pole home you understood why his four prior starts had all come on the lawn.
The same could not be said for both Coup de Grace and Wicked Strong. Coup de Grace was an impressive two for two coming into the Holy Bull, with maiden and allowance tallies under his belt, but found out quickly that the going gets tougher in these graded stakes preps. He didn’t break perfectly from his rail draw but quickly found himself in his normal spot on the front end. Unfortunately for his backers and connections, Coup de Grace had enough midway on the turn and wound up tenth.
The connections of Wicked Strong have to be even more perplexed with his ninth place finish considering he was beaten just a half-length when third in the aforementioned Remsen last year after closing into wicked slow early fractions. He barely lifted his legs in the Holy Bull and could perhaps use a change of tactics last out. I thought he’d be on the lead in the Remsen but was instead sitting in fifth and was taken towards the back of the pack this past weekend. If I had a say, he’d be much closer to the lead next out and may need a set of blinkers when all is said and done.
While it may have been the most talked about prep, the Holy Bull sure wasn’t the only one so far, though the others have been a little less exciting for me, for the lack of a better term.
Noble Moon won the Jerome at Aqueduct on January 4th over Classic Giacnroll and the maiden Scotland while making his first start since a third place finish in the Nashua. Noble Moon won while racing on or close to the lead in what was his two turn debut, but beat a suspect bunch, to say the least.
The Sham on January 11th at Santa Anita produced a predictable Midnight Hawk/Kristo exacta, especially after the field was reduced to just four runners. Midnight Hawk and Kristo alternated on the lead before Midnight Hawk got away in the stretch as Kristo stayed on once switching off the rail. The two behind them were a former maiden claimer and a turf horse. Midnight Hawk is trained by Bob Baffert, so you have to keep an eye on him, but I’m not buying into Kristo and those who thought he raced as well as the winner.
Vicar’s In Trouble galloped home by 6 ¾ lengths in the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds on January 18 in his stakes/two-turn debut. Another visually impressive winner who beat little, in my opinion, he is perhaps one of the more interesting prep winners since his owner Ken Ramsey has been high on this Louisiana-bred for some time.
The January 20th Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park was like watching three people on treadmills at the gym as the first three finishers – Tanzanite Cat, Walt and Coastline – essentially ran that way around the track as Tanzanite Cat and Walt traded places on the lead early on before Tanzanite Cat edged clear near the wire. They’re all pointing for the Southwest on February 17 where last years’ Hopeful winner and third place Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third place finisher Strong Mandate likely awaits.
If they ran the Derby today, my money would be on the Shug McGaughey trained Honor Code, who will make his seasonal debut in the Fountain of Youth. Shug also has impressive allowance winner from this past Saturday, Top Billing in his barn, who I would love to see head north for the Gotham, so they should help take the sting out of Mr. Speaker’s failed dirt experiment in the Holy Bull, though one knows you can never have enough prospects on the Trail.
Which leads us to Todd Pletcher, who seemingly has a stockpile of Thoroughbred sophomores pointed at Louisville every spring. This year isn’t any different as Constitution and Hartford both looked fantastic in their debut scores and Commissioner returned a winner over Top Billing in a 1 1/8 mile allowance contest at the beginning of the year. Oh, yeah, don’t forget about last years’ Champagne winner and Juvenile runner-up, Havana, who we’ve yet to see this season.
All of this, and we didn’t even discuss the early retirement of Juvenile winner New Year’s Day and the foot issues facing Two-Year-Old Eclipse Award winner Shared Belief, who was forced to miss a scheduled work this past Friday that will keep him from making his seasonal debut in the Robert Lewis on February 8th at Santa Anita. It’s a setback any Derby hopeful wouldn’t want to encounter but it’s multiplied in this instance since Shared Belief doesn’t currently have any Derby points and foot problems are the worst kind of problems to have if you are a race horse.
I think we’re up to date now. We’ll keep you updated as to the status of Shared Belief as well as the rest of those on the Triple Crown Trail, next week and in the coming weeks. See you then!!!
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