The Grade 2, $350,000 Holy Bull on Saturday at Gulfstream Park offers 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner. The field is led by the top two finishers in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, along with Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity winner Free Drop Billy. Yet this race is hardly straightforward as 11 runners comprise this field – many of them promising colts looking to make their mark on the Derby trail as they step up in class for the first time.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, primarily due to the presence of stretch-out sprinter Aequor (#10), and fellow speeds Bandito (#5) and Mississippi (#11). Bandito goes out for trainer Dale Romans as one of four that he has entered in this race (only three are expected to start), so he figures to use his early speed to aid the causes of his closing stablemates. Meanwhile, Aequor and Mississippi will have to be used hard to cross over from their outside post positions, as the first turn comes up very quickly in these 1 1/16 miles races at Gulfstream. The closers in the race with the highest TimeformUS Late Pace Ratings are Audible, Tiz Mischief, and Tip Sheet. However, late runners sometimes have a tough time making up ground going this distance, since the first finish line (at the sixteenth pole) is in use, shortening the final stretch.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, ENTICED (3-1): This well-bred son of multiple Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky has done little wrong through three career starts. He was thrown to the wolves following his Saratoga debut win, stepping right up into the Grade 1 Champagne against some of the best 2-year-olds of his generation. Despite such a tall order, he gave a strong account of himself. The pace of that Champagne was on the quick side, which aided the winner, Firenze Fire. While he was no match for eventual Breeders’ Cup winner Good Magic, who helped carve out those early fractions, Enticed stayed on well for third after dropping back slightly at the top of the stretch.
He followed up that effort with a very professional performance in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club to close out his 2-year-old season. Sent away as the tepid favorite, he worked out a favorable trip in a race where others did encounter some trouble. Nevertheless, he gamely battled back when Tiz Mischief ran up inside of him in the final eighth of a mile. Distance does not figure to pose an issue for this runner, and he may eventually want to go even farther than today’s 1 1/16 miles. Enticed really did luck out at the draw, since inside post positions are especially advantageous given this abbreviated run to the first turn. He’s versatile enough to sit a couple of lengths off the early leaders, so he does not figure to be too negatively affected by a swift early tempo. This is simply the horse to beat.
#2, FREE DROP BILLY (6-1): As reported by DRF’s Marty McGee, Dale Romans has stated that he expects to start just three horses. Either Free Drop Billy or Hollywood Star will likely bypass this prep in favor of the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10.
Assuming that he starts here, Free Drop Billy has some questions to answer in his 3-year-old debut. While he is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, he earned that victory against a relatively weak group in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity. That race also came up fairly slow from a speed figure perspective. He followed that up with a bitterly disappointing run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, yet he may have had a legitimate excuse that day. The main track at Del Mar had been favoring outside runners, and hindering those that hugged the rail. Free Drop Billy, like his stablemate Hollywood Star, spent the majority of the race running in the inside path, which likely compromised both of their chances. A fast pace would suit him, but I think this is just a steppingstone to other races. After all, Dale Romans only put four workouts into him since returning from the layoff, whereas he has continuously drilled stablemate Tiz Mischief for this race since his final start as a 2-year-old.
#3, MASTER MANIPULATOR (20-1): In his lone start against the best colts of his generation in last year’s Champagne, he finished a distant 11th. Since then, he’s run reasonably well in two starts at Gulfstream, finally winning his maiden in his fifth try last time over a sloppy track. However, TimeformUS PPs indicate that the surface on that afternoon was favoring runners with speed (noted by the pink color-coded Race Rating box). He earned a competitive 109 Speed Figure for that effort, but the performance was likely aided by the track profile. This time, he has to deal with other speed horses that appear to be faster than him. An outsider.
#4, AUDIBLE (6-1): Todd Pletcher called an audible, scratching this runner out of a New York-bred stakes race a few weeks ago, and instead shipping him to Florida to target this Kentucky Derby prep. It’s no surprise that this runner’s connections are setting their sights higher than mere statebred races given his recent performances. His pair of 107 TimeformUS Speed Figures are two of the faster numbers in this race, and he has been finishing off his one-mile races in a fashion that suggests the stretch-out to two turns should be no problem. However, there are a couple of drawbacks. He’s been facing much softer competition than what he meets here. The Race Rating for his allowance win against just 3 rivals last time was a paltry 92, much lower than the projected 108 Race Rating for this event. Furthermore, the Pace Projector is predicting that he will find himself toward the back of the pack in the early stages of this race, as there is more speed entered here than he has encountered in prior starts. I think this horse possesses the requisite talent to be a factor in a race like this, but I have some reservations at what figures to be a short price.
#5, BANDITO (20-1): He’s likely to serve as a pacesetter for his late-running stablemates. His lone win came as the odds-on choice in an off-the-turf event at Keeneland and he was no match for graded stakes-quality foes in his most recent start in the Remsen. Look for him early, but don’t expect him to be around late.
#6, HOLLYWOOD STAR (12-1): Romans has stated that he’s likely to run just one of the Albaugh Family Stables duo in this race, as either he or Free Drop Billy will ship to Tampa Bay Downs for the Sam F. Davis next week while the other starts here.
By Malibu Moon out of a Grade 1-winning mare, Hollywood Star is certainly bred to be a top runner. While he earned a couple of graded stakes placings last season, he still has to prove that he can take a significant step forward if he’s going to truly live up to that potential. As I noted when analyzing Free Drop Billy’s effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the rail was dead at Del Mar that day, which hindered Hollywood Star just as much as his stablemate. Joel Rosario was one of the few riders in that Juvenile that guided his mount right over to the rail and stayed there for the majority of the race. Despite that trip, Hollywood Star did well to pass half the field when angled out in the stretch, while clearly no match for the top three. Like Free Drop Billy, he has only registered a few workouts since returning this winter and may not be at top fitness for this race. The projected fast pace would help him, but I think we’re more likely to see further improvement from this colt in future starts.
#7, TIZ MISCHIEF (4-1): Of the Romans quartet, this is the one that should be feared most. I love the progression that this horse showed through his 2-year-old season, breaking his maiden when stretched out to two turns for the first time and stepping right up into stakes company with that strong performance in the Kentucky Jockey Club. While the Pace Projector is favoring horses with his running style, I do think Robby Albarado is going to have to get him in gear early to compensate for the short stretch run going this distance at Gulfstream. He did that well in this horse’s maiden win at Keeneland under similar circumstances.
However, what I really like about this horse is his workout pattern coming into this race. Unlike Free Drop Billy and Hollywood Star, who have registered a limited amount of morning preparation for this race, Tiz Mischief has been drilled strongly for this early season goal, and has reportedly impressed Romans in his training. While Dale Romans gets just a 52 TimeformUS Trainer Rating with horses coming off layoffs of this type, I think the obvious intention to have this colt fit off such rigorous preparation somewhat counteracts that statistic. In my opinion, there’s a good chance he’s progressed beyond his performance in the Kentucky Jockey Club and I think he’s the main threat to Enticed. Given a higher price on this colt, he’s my top pick.
#8, PONY UP (8-1): He ran well in his lone dirt start, and nearly ran down a good colt, Soutache, who returned to win two stakes races in subsequent starts. He’s been raced exclusively on turf since that performance, and has done well, placing in a couple of stakes. Given his prior dirt performance and his pedigree – he’s a half-brother to accomplished dirt routers S’maverlous and Goats Town – he figures to have no trouble transitioning his solid recent form back to the main track.
You can absolutely make a valid case for this colt. I suppose I just did – but I still don’t want to bet him. This is just not something that Todd Pletcher does. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five years, Pletcher is just 1 for 13 ($0.59 ROI) with 3-year-olds going from turf to dirt in graded stakes races. Essentially, Todd Pletcher does not run his Derby prospects in a series of turf races unless he’s completely wrong about them – and that’s a rarity. Will I be shocked if Pony Up does well in this race? No. However, he’s going to take money just because his trainer does well at Gulfstream and that’s not enough reason for me to ignore the lack of value on this runner.
#9, TIP SHEET (30-1): The horse exiting that Jan. 11 allowance race that is likely to attract the most attention is Mississippi. Indeed, he did beat this horse by over 6 lengths and seemingly has the potential to take another step forward in just his fourth career start. However, the horse that I would rather bet out of that race is Tip Sheet.
Tip Sheet did not have a great trip last time. The early pace of that race was on the slow side (indicated by a blue color-coded pace figure), and Tip Sheet essentially lost all chance at the start when he stumbled badly and his rider lost an iron. Jaramillo did well to regain his stirrups soon after that incident, but Tip Sheet was left with a ton of ground to make up. All things considered, I thought he launched an effective run around the far turn to get up into third and stayed on well to chase the top two finishers home. Does he have to run better than that to compete here? Of course, but I think there is potential for him to do so. There is plenty of stamina in this horse’s pedigree and he has obviously run his best races around two turns. He made a strong late bid in the In Reality last September behind top Florida-bred 2-year-old Soutache, and followed that up with a workmanlike win in the slop. It’s obvious that he’s better racing over a fast track, and the projected fast pace in this race is likely to suit him.
Note: There are a couple of things to note about Tip Sheet’s recent speed figures. In the TimeformUS PPs, his Nov. 15 race has a ‘c’ next to the Race Rating, indicating that weather-related factors may have changed the condition of the track during the card. Also, his Jan. 11 performance has an ‘o’ next to the Race Rating, indicating that the race in which he participated was the only route race on that card. This information helps us highlight speed figures that may be somewhat unreliable and merit further consideration as horses run back out of those races.
#10, AEQUOR (15-1): This horse has never run beyond seven furlongs and draws a disadvantageous outside post position. He will have to work hard to clear the field heading into the first turn, and is unlikely to be a late factor.
#11, MISSISSIPPI (5-1): He was really hindered by the post position draw, as this outside slot is a major disadvantage going this distance. He ran reasonably well behind the talented Noble Indy in his first start against winners last time, but he got a very favorable trip that day. The pace of that race was moderate and he was allowed to set those fractions after breaking from an inside post position. The scenario is completely different this time, since he will likely have to chase the speedy Aequor and be used to try to get over towards the inside from this wide draw. There’s no doubt that he possesses some talent, but I think he finds himself in a difficult position here.
The two main players are the pair of colts exiting last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club. I prefer Tiz Mischief (#7) over Enticed (#1), and I would bet him at odds of 7-2 or higher. I also want to throw in longshot Tip Sheet (#9), primarily underneath in exotics.
Exacta Key Box: 7 with 1,2,4,6,9
Trifecta: 7 with 1,4,9 with 1,2,4,6,8,9,11