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Rocket Can won the 2023 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park, a prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). Is the Bill Mott trainee now a major threat moving forward? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
One week after saddling Art Collector for a victory in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott made another visit to the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle after saddling Rocket Can for a triumph in Saturday’s $250,000 Holy Bull (G3).
Frank Fletcher Racing Operations Inc.’s Rocket Can ($7.20) overcame an extremely wide trip in the 1 1/16-mile race to score by three-quarters of a length. The son of Into Mischief was ridden by Junior Alvarado, who was aboard Art Collector for his Pegasus World Cup score.
The Holy Bull, the first graded-stakes stop on the road to the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1), headlined Saturday’s 12-race program that offered five graded-stakes opportunities for 3-year-olds.
The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull is a designated Kentucky Derby (G1) prep with the first four finishers eligible for 20 qualifying points on an 8-6-4-2 scale.
2023 Kentucky Derby
Rocket Can broke from the far-outside post position in a field of eight and was caught four-wide around the first turn. Alvarado kept the gray colt in the clear on the outside as Mr. Bob showed the way along the backstretch while posting fractions of 23.92 and 48.84 seconds for the first half mile.
Rocket Can was asked for run leaving the backstretch and made a three-wide move to the lead at the top of the stretch and continued on to withstand a stretch challenge from Shadow Dragon, another Mott trainee ridden by Jose Ortiz.
“The horse broke sharp, and I hustled out of there just to make sure I’m forwardly placed and he was there for me. I couldn’t really save much ground the first part because everybody had the same idea to get out of there running. I ended up being a little bit wide, but he was very kind. He was nice and relaxed the whole way around, so I was very pleased with what I had under me,” Alvarado said. “By the three-eighths pole I started picking it up little by little knowing that it’s the first wire. I had a great feeling going all the way around.”
Rocket Can ran 1 1/16-miles in 1:44.97 to win his stakes debut. Peachtree Stable’s Shadow Dragon, a 30-1 longshot, finished 2 ¼ lengths clear of West Coast Cowboy, a 58-1 longshot ridden by Edgard Zayas.
Rocket Can finished off the board in a pair of sprints at Saratoga before stretching out around to turns to graduate at Churchill Downs by two lengths Oct. 30. The Kentucky-bred colt finished his juvenile campaign with a close second-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance at Churchill Downs Nov. 26.
“It was a little worrisome on the first turn. He was four-wide. It’s a short run to the first turn and he had the outside post. He was four-wide in the first turn and then three-wide. The good part about all that is you have a clear trip,” Mott said. “You’re running further than everyone else, but he got a nice clean trip and maybe that’s what he needed today.”
Saturday’s effort strengthened Mott’s confidence in Rocket Can’s capability to run at longer distances.
“It seems like he can keep going. Hopefully, another sixteenth is good and another three-sixteenths is even better,” said Mott. “Time will tell that.”
Shadow Dragon’s strong performance very much pleased his trainer.
“It was a great race for him. I’m very pleased with his effort for a horse that’s run only twice,” said Mott, whose New York-bred son of Army Mule defeated state-breds in a six-furlong debut at Aqueduct Sept. 29 before finishing off-the-board in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes. “He moved way forward today.”
The Holy Bull will be followed on the road to the Florida Derby by the Fountain of Youth (G2) March. 4.
“I think we’d want to do that with one of them, for sure,” Mott said.
Cyclone Mischief, the 6-5 favorite ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, raced in mid-pack before fading the seventh.
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Winning Jockey Junior Alvarado (Rocket Can): “The horse broke sharp and I hustled out of there just to make sure I’m forwardly placed and he was there for me. I couldn’t really save much ground the first part because everybody had the same idea to get out of there running. I ended up being a little bit wide, but he was very kind. He was nice and relaxed the whole way around so I was very pleased with what I had under me. By the three-eighths pole I started picking it up little by little knowing that it’s the first wire. I had a great feeling going all the way around. I know before when he gets head-to-head with horses he kind of stayed there, so I tried something different to surprise him a little bit and try to get away from there so he doesn’t stay with those horses, and he was there for me. He responded very well. Mr. Mott does an amazing job with all his horses, and he brought this one very ready for me.”
“The other horse was coming but I can guarantee you we could have gone two times around the track, and he wouldn’t have gone by me. When he felt that horse coming, he kind of rebroke, even after the wire. I didn’t have a problem. I knew he was ready for a fight if we needed it.”
Jose Ortiz (Shadow Dragon, 2nd): “He won nicely the first time out and the second time out it was a little disappointing his first time going long. He’s very young, he’s learning. He’s a big horse and I think he’s going to get better with age, and he proved it today. Billy just told me to ride him with confidence, that he was doing good, not to rush him and let him figure it out, and he did. He took a lot of dirt, and then I put him in the clear around the three-eighths pole and he gave me great run. I thought I had a shot at the top of the stretch, but Rocket Can is a nice horse and I think he’s a little bit ahead of my horse. Mentally, he developed a little bit faster, but I think he’ll be a good horse down the road. He took the dirt and I love horses that can do that and make a run. If he keeps going like this, I’m sure he’s going to get one of the big ones.”
Tyler Gaffalione (Cyclone Mischief, 7th): “At the quarter pole he started making a little bit of noise and he switched to his off lead, and that was it. But he pulled up fine we’ll see what we’ve got next time.”
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