The Brock Talk

Friday, January 27, 2012

Despite Training Trends, Holy Bull Remains Important Step On Kentucky Derby Trail

A couple of things about the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) from an historical point of view may help put this weekend’s early Derby prep into perspective. The $400,000 Holy Bull will be run Sunday at Gulfstream Park with a field of six going the one-turn mile. The lead story line for this year’s Holy Bull Stakes is the 2012 debut of Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner and champion 2-year-old male Hansen (photo right).

Even if Hansen is successful in his debut, there have been few Holy Bull winners who also went on to don the blanket of roses in the winners’ circle of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1). The only Holy Bull winners to also win the Kentucky Derby later were Barbaro in 2006 (photo below left) and Go For Gin in 1994 but others have faired well enough at Churchill Downs.

First run in 1990 as The Preview Stakes, the Holy Bull was created to replace the Flamingo Stakes that had been run at then closed Hialeah race track. The Holy Bull has been run at three different distances in its more than 20-year history, going as far as 1-1/8 miles, to 1-1/16 miles, to its current distance of one mile in various orders and years.

The shortened distance makes the Holy Bull perhaps a more attractive prep race for horses that are considering the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown and need or want at least three starts to prepare for and attempt to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The Holy Bull is part of a series of graded races at Gulfstream Park for 3-year-olds that also includes the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at 1-1/16 miles and the 1-1/8 mile Florida Derby (gr. 1) on Mar. 31. This year the Kentucky Derby will be run May 5.

The 2011 Holy Bull Stakes produced two eventual Kentucky Derby starters in Dialed In and Mucho Macho Man. Dialed In gave trainer Nick Zito his record third victory in the Holy Bull Stakes last year (along with Go For Gin and Suave Prospect in 1995). Dialed In later won the Florida Derby last year before finishing a disappointing ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

Third in last year’s Holy Bull, Mucho Macho Man would go on to also run third in the Kentucky Derby and join Animal Kingdom and Shackleford as the only horses to start in all three Triple Crown races last year. Mucho Macho Man was sixth in the Preakness (gr. I) and seventh in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

West Side Bernie, third in the 2009 Holy Bull Stakes; and Homeboy Kris, third a year later in the Holy Bull, would both make the Kentucky Derby but neither fared well in their Run for the Roses. West Side Bernie was ninth behind Mine That Bird and Homeboy Kris was 16th in the Derby won by Super Saver.

Until last year when two Holy Bull starters made it the Kentucky Derby, the Holy Bull has not had a strong connection to the Derby. Recent Derby winning horsemen have leaned toward starting their promising sophomores only twice before the Kentucky Derby and closer to the race than the late January Holy Bull. Of the last five Kentucky Derby winners since Barbaro, all started in only two Kentucky Derby prep races with only Mine That Bird starting as early as February. The 2009 Derby winner began his 3-year-old year running second in the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park on Feb. 28.

Animal Kingdom last year, Super Saver (2010), Big Brown (2008) and Street Sense (2007) all made their first starts of their respective years in March preceding their Kentucky Derby wins.

Despite being the expected heavy favorite, a victory in Sunday’s Holy Bull is certainly not a necessity for Hansen. His winner’s check of $600,000 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile insures him a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate if he can stay sound and competitive. The Derby is limited to 20 starters with earnings in graded races used to determine the eligible entrants. But the competition only gets tougher as the Derby draws near and it is doubtful that trainer Mike Maker and owners Dr. Hansen Kendall and Sky Chai Racing want to go to Louisville based only on last year’s accomplishments.

A victory in the Holy Bull would be much more impactful for any of the other five starters, of which none have any graded earnings. The $240,000 first-place check in the Holy Bull would place any of the other five in the top ten on the current list of 3-year-olds with graded earnings and likely enough to eventually qualify for the Kentucky Derby. Currently $105,000 in graded earnings makes the top 20, but that is likely to be a very fluid number during the next three months before those Derby slots are awarded.

Second and third-place checks of $80,000 and $40,000 in the Holy Bull respectively will leave plenty of work for those starting this race with a zero balance in their graded stakes bankrolls – but every little bit may help. West Side Bernie, Homeboy Kris and Mucho Macho Man have proven that a third in the late January Holy Bull does not qualify nor disqualify one from making it to Kentucky for the first Saturday in May.

If nothing else, a good performance in the Holy Bull Sunday remains important in creative rose colored hopeds for these six 3-year-olds, their connections and their quest to make it the prestigious Kentucky Derby.

1 comment:

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