The Kentucky Derby is just over three months away and hopeful three-year-olds are well-underway to plotting a course to the hallowed race. Now in the final month of the 18-race Kentucky Derby Prep Season on the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system, many talented runners have emerged to get their name on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. boasts a field of 11 and includes seven graded stakes runners, four of which have at least one point in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system.
The Kentucky Derby points system replaced the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concludes February 17, the top four finishers in 18 pre-determined races are awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. In the first leg of phase two, the Championship Series, the top four finishers in 8 pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. In the second leg of the Championship Series, the top four finishers in the 8 pre-determined races receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively.
Leading the Holy Bull field is Remsen Stakes (G2) runner-up Cairo Prince. A son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile and a grandson to the race’s namesake Holy Bull, Cairo Prince is bred to be a Classic winner. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee lost the Remsen by a nose to the well-regarded Honor Code. Cairo Prince was two-for-two going into the Remsen, coming off a win in the Nashua Stakes (G2). The slow pace of the Remsen (final time for the 1 1/8 mile route was 1:52.40) and the fact that the two favorites finished noses apart only told the betting public these horses were far superior to others in the eight-horse field. The question now is whether Cairo Prince is far superior to the field lined up for the Holy Bull? Cairo Prince has been installed as the morning-line favorite at odds of 3-1 and will be ridden by jockey Luis Saez.
Garnering much pre-race talk is Claude “Shug” McGaughey’s Mr Speaker, who could set up the trainer and owners, Phipps Stable, for a Kentucky Derby repeat, having joined to campaign Kentucky Derby winner Orb last year. Coming in off a win in the Dania Beach (G3) on the turf, Mr Speaker will make his first start on dirt. Turf-to-dirt is a popular betting angle, especially when a horse’s breeding indicates he should prefer dirt. Mr Speaker’s sire, Pulpit, and dam, Salute, were both dirt runners, not turf runners, and Pulpit finished fourth in the 1997 Kentucky Derby. Mr Speaker is second choice on the morning-line at odds of 5-1 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Coup de Grace will attempt his first graded stakes for trainer Chad Brown. The son of Tapit is undefeated in two career starts and earned a Brisnet speed figure of 94 in his last start, a $75,000 allowance optional claimer. That ranks as the fasted last race speed figure in the Holy Bull field. Coup de Grace also turned in a bullet work last week going four furlongs in a sharp :47.2, which was the fastest of 52 others going that distance on the track that day. With his speed and early running style, he’ll certainly give Cairo Prince a run for the money.
A pair of longer-priced, but quality runners to consider in the exotics is Wicked Strong and Financial Mogul. Both were beaten in their last starts by Cairo Prince. Wicked Strong had a rough start in the Remsen (G2), but closed strongly in the end and was beaten by only a half-length. Financial Mogul overcame a wide trip to finish 2 ½ lengths behind Cairo Prince in the Nashua (G2) in his last start. Javier Castellano, who picked up the Eclipse award for leading jockey last week, will have the mount aboard Wicked Strong and jockey Jose Ortiz retains the mount on Financial Mogul.
The race is the 10th on Gulfstream Park’s Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 5:03 EST. The race can be seen on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Courtesy NYRA.com