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The Grade 2, $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes has drawn an intriguing field of 11 and will serve as the first Kentucky Derby prep race of the season at Gulfstream Park. Going off last on a stakes-loaded 12-race card, the Holy Bull has become a major stopping point on the Kentucky Derby trail and is the first big step towards the Florida Derby.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has two Kentucky Derby prospects to manage and run this weekend. Avery Island will take his talents to New York for the Grade 3 Withers Stakes, while his fellow graded stakes-winning stablemate Enticed runs in the Holy Bull on a quest to the Triple Crown races. McLaughlin is excited to get Enticed going.
“This is a key race for us to see how they stack up,” said McLaughlin, who trains the Kentucky-bred for Godolphin Racing LLC. “He’s done everything right and he won a nice race last time out. The colt that he beat a nose at Churchill (Tiz Mischief) is probably the horse to beat for us, one of the ones to beat. He’s doing great and we’re happy, but it’s hard to compare him to Cairo Prince and Mohaymen and other horses.
“He won his first start and we weren’t counting on that, but he did it,” McLaughlin added. “I didn’t think he was that kind of first-time-out winner, but he showed that he has that ability. He kind of didn’t have a perfect trip in the Grade 1 Champagne to be third. He came out of that race to run at Churchill in a full field. He was in a little tight all the way and he showed a lot of guts and got a lot of education out of the race, being in tight and taking some dirt. It was a very good race, an excellent performance, and we hope we can duplicate that Saturday.”
Trainer Dale Romans has entered an eye-catching four horses into the race, including Tiz Mischief, Hollywood Star, Free Drop Billy, and Bandito. However, it sounds like only three of the four will run.
“It’s to get them all started, but it also fits for all the horses,” Romans said. “If I run three, it’ll be for three different owners. It might be better for me to keep them all separated, but I think this is the best race for all these horses to start back this year.”
The field from the rail out: Enticed, Free Drop Billy, Master Manipulator, Audible, Bandito, Hollywood Star, Tiz Mischief, Pony Up, Tip Sheet, Aequor, and Mississippi. Local post time for the race is 5:49 PM EST.
#1 Enticed – After going back and forth with myself on this one, I landed on Enticed. This is easily the most competitive race so far on the 2018 Kentucky Derby trail. Enticed didn’t draw the greatest post, but he should be able to work out a nice inside trip while stalking the speed in this race. He should be able to save ground, and if he gets room to run in the end, then he could be hard to hold off. He’s working out very well heading into the race, and McLaughlin usually has horses ready to fire in these early-season preps.
#7 Tiz Mischief – If he’s ready for a top effort, then he could be very tough to hold off. The race seems to be loaded with speed horses, which could set up very well for Tiz Mischief, who is comfortable with dropping back and making one run at the end. The downside is that, if the pace doesn’t materialize, then he could be in trouble; he seems to be a little one-dimensional. He’s in with a big shot regardless, so it would be smart to have him on all of your tickets.
#11 Mississippi – I thought about making this colt my top choice, but I wasn’t thrilled with the outside draw or the presence of plenty of early speed. That should be quite the challenge for him, as he’ll either have to send hard early and gun out to the lead, or else take back and risk being caught wide. He showed a lot of talent last time out, sticking with the Todd Pletcher-trained Noble Indy and giving him a run for his money to the wire in an allowance event. If the setup looked a little better for him, then he’d be the top pick. (Update 2/2: Mississippi will SCRATCH for Allowance race Sunday)
#4 Audible – He moves south for a try at Gulfstream Park after two blowout victories at Aqueduct. The waters are way deeper compared to his last couple of efforts, but he’s earned a shot after winning so easily. He should be able to sit just in behind the major speed in here and get first run on the field when turning for home. You have to love that Javier Castellano is staying on to ride, too. All of these Kentucky Derby preps are yielding short-priced winners, but maybe this is the horse that gives us the first big price.
#2 Free Drop Billy – Romans has four horses entered in this race, including two for the same owner. Since he’ll only run one in this spot, either he or Hollywood Star will be scratched. As a Grade 1 winner, Free Drop Billy is the most accomplished horse in the entire race. He’s training steadily for his 2018 debut, but most Romans horses need a race when coming back off of a layoff. He may not win here, but he is one to watch for down the road.
#6 Hollywood Star – Much like Free Drop Billy, I’m skeptical that Hollywood Star needs a race before being tuned up and ready for a peak effort. Last time out, he finished ahead of Free Drop Billy in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was no threat to the top three finishers in the race. The horse has a lot of talent, but he’s struggled with staying focused throughout a race. However, he may be maturing, as he’s been working up a storm for this race. It’ll be interesting to see his development. (Update 2/2: Hollywood Star will SCRATCH for Sam F. Davis next week)
#3 Master Manipulator – He just looks like a horse that can beat you at a big price. He won’t be on all of my tickets, but you can bet that he’ll be on some, as his last race was very impressive. In his first effort around two turns, he took the field wire to wire while fighting off a big challenge from the Pletcher-trained Slot down the stretch. Jockey Jose Ortiz stays on to ride this colt once again, which is a fantastic sign. The pace seems like it’s going to be swift in here, which is the only downside, but if this guy floats up in the odds, then he’ll be worth a swing.
#8 Pony Up – He switches to dirt after just missing in a stakes race on turf. His powerful connections make him tough to throw out, but he’ll need to improve off of his one effort on the dirt to have much of a shot.
#5 Bandito – Romans takes a swing here with a horse that was crushed in the Remsen. He’ll have to improve greatly, but this race will be a decent measuring stick on his level of improvement.
#9 Tip Sheet – There’s nothing wrong with this horse. He’s been solid at the lower levels, but he just doesn’t look classy enough when jumping up to this competition. He finished a well-beaten third against good allowance company in his last start, so he needs to improve here.
#10 Aequor – What a tough post draw for a horse that does his best running towards the front. This race is likely to have a very hot pace, and that might be too much for this horse to overcome, as he looks to be overmatched a bit.
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