Kentucky Derby qualifying points have already been awarded in a number of races during this cycle, but the prep season kicks into high gear on Saturday with the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. While a win in the race, like many of those before it, is only worth 10 qualifying points, this Holy Bull is notable for the quality of its field. This race marks the 2019 debut of one of last year’s elite 2-year-olds, Maximus Mischief, who aims to stay undefeated in his fourth career start.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Maximus Mischief’s (#8) task will not be easy, as a fast pace is likely. Outside post positions are often a disadvantage going this distance on the Gulfstream Park main track since they curve left into the clubhouse turn immediately after the start. Two of Maximus Mischief’s primary pace rivals are drawn directly outside of him in the widest posts, yet both of those runners are longshots. A horse like Epic Dreamer (#3) is perhaps more dangerous since he also possesses plenty of speed and is drawn well inside of those aforementioned runners. Given the tricky pace scenario, it seems highly likely that Maximus Mischief may have to rate behind runners for the first time.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, GARTER AND TIE (12-1): This horse is an admirable overachiever, having never finished off the board in five stakes attempts despite sporting a modest pedigree. Whereas some others had taxing trips in the Mucho Macho Man, I thought the dynamics of that race played to this colt’s strengths. While the other late runners launched wide moves into the far turn, he waited patiently on the inside before peeling out in the stretch to launch his rally. Winner Mihos ran a much stronger race that day, and this colt is unlikely to turn the tables on that one. Furthermore, his disappointing performance as the favorite in last fall’s In Reality Stakes does not bolster confidence that added distance will help him. At best, a trifecta player.
#2, FEDERAL CASE (6-1): He’s done little wrong in two career starts, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s been adequately battle-tested for this major step up in class. He was very game to hang on for the victory in his seven-furlong debut at Keeneland, especially considering that previous trainer Rodolphe Brisset is not known for winning first time out. Purchased out of that race at the Keeneland November sale for a hefty sum, he did what was asked of him in his first start for the new connections. Some may be disappointed that he had to work so hard to win again as the 2-5 choice, but he nevertheless earned an improved speed figure in the process. He’s bred to get at least this far, and he appears to still have some upside. Yet there are some negatives. Like Maximus Mischief, he’s never had to rate behind horses, and he is certainly not fast enough to be in the first flight of runners this time. Additionally, Todd Pletcher has yet to find major stakes success with this crop of 3-year-olds, as his stable seems to be losing some of its magic touch. If this horse is going to be among the shorter prices, I want to look elsewhere for value. Pass.
#3, EPIC DREAMER (15-1): I believe it’s far too soon to write this colt off despite his terribly disappointing performance in the Springboard Mile. While it’s hard to find anything positive about his effort, I can offer one possible excuse. In retrospect, I think it was a mistake for his connections to decide on rating tactics that day. While it was a fairly run race, the pace was moderate, and Epic Dreamer is capable of running much faster early fractions. His best weapon is his speed, and that was taken away from him last time out. This time, I believe Kelly Breen would be wise to instruct Irad Ortiz to gauge the break and try to make the front if he gets away well. While the Pace Projector is predicting that horses like Gladiator King and Going for Gold are faster, we do not take post position into account, and those two are at a distinct disadvantage breaking from the outside going this distance.
Epic Dreamer has a real opportunity here, and I still believe he’s talented enough to impact the outcome of this race. His debut performance was no fluke, as he took a strong run at Nashua winner Vekoma and held off today’s rival Mihos. The 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that performance is the highest in this field. Some may criticize him for riding a golden rail in his maiden win next time out – there was indeed a strong inside bias on Oct. 26 – yet he won that race with incredible ease, as Javier Castellano probably could have asked him to win by many more lengths. He’s going to be an enticing price this time, and I want to use him prominently in my wagers. A serious threat at a price.
#4, EVERFAST (30-1): He was no match for the elite runners in his division in the Breeders’ Futurity last fall, and I don’t see any evidence that he’s improved since then. Pass.
#5, HARVEY WALLBANGER (15-1): This colt is an enigma for me. I understand why most handicappers would argue that he’s just not fast enough to be a contender in a graded stakes, especially based on his last two efforts. And there is merit to that point of view. After all, he was facing vastly inferior rivals and was unable to distinguish himself. Yet I cannot shake the feeling that there’s more to this runner than meets the eye. His Saratoga debut was strong, as he chased eventual Champagne winner Complexity while finishing well ahead of fast second-out winner King for a Day. He followed that up with another strong performance against a game Plus Que Parfait, who returned to finish second in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Based on those form lines, he’s a contender in this spot. The problem is that his last two races were carbon copies of that Oct. 7 effort from a visual perspective, except against much weaker rivals.
So, what’s going on? I believe that Harvey Wallbanger waits on horses and runs to his competition. That’s the only way for me to explain the disparity between his first pair of starts and the following pair. You saw a bit of that last time, as he ranged up at the quarter pole with dominance before refusing to separate himself from the field in the stretch. That apparent character flaw is not going to be as big of an issue in this field, where he is likely to be chasing down rivals throughout. He clearly handles this distance, and it would appear that he’s going to get an honest pace to close into. So, if I’m right about his overall ability, I see no reason why he couldn’t run into the exotics at a big price. Don’t underestimate this one.
#6, MIHOS (5-2): I liked what I saw in the Mucho Macho Man. Mihos really had no business winning that race given his trip, as he was forced to make a five-wide run after the leaders heading in the far turn. Main rival Code of Honor made a similar midrace move and could not sustain his run. Yet despite his inexperience, Mihos kept on battling. There’s some question as to whether it was Mihos’s own finishing power or Trophy Chaser’s lack thereof that allowed him to get up for the victory, but he nevertheless got the job done.
Those who follow New York racing closely were hardly surprised that Mihos was able to make the class jump, as he was exiting some very strong maiden races. Given his versatile running style and willingness to finish, I don’t anticipate him having any major issues negotiating two turns. The only minor negative is that he loses Jose Ortiz to the favorite, but John Velazquez is an adequate replacement. Maximus Mischief has run faster and accomplished more at this point in their careers, but I won’t be shocked to see Mihos take yet another step forward. A contender.
#7, COME ON GERRY (20-1): It’s no surprise that he improved with added distance since he is a half-brother to 10-furlong stakes winner Inflexibility and multiple stakes-placed router Fundamental. While it was nice to see him earn a much faster speed figure last time, he will need to improve yet again to beat this field. I’m also somewhat concerned that he was with the grain of the track last time, as TimeformUS PPs indicate that Gulfstream’s surface was very speed favoring that day. There will be no free rides on the front end this time. Pass.
#8, MAXIMUS MISCHIEF (1-1): This imposing son of Into Mischief had some major class questions to answer when he stepped up to contest the Remsen last time, and he passed the test with flying colors. Runner-up Network Effect had already proven his quality when finishing second in a fast edition of the Nashua, and Maximus Mischief easily drew away from that foe at the head of the lane. In case there was any doubt about the legitimacy of that speed figure, fourth-place finisher Bourbon War returned to win an allowance race while improving his TimeformUS Speed Figure by two points.
It’s highly uncommon for a young horse to so seamlessly stretch out to 1 1/8 miles after showing so much precocity in his early sprint races. Yet Maximus Mischief took it all in stride. He did not fight his rider when asked to set slow fractions, and he kicked for home like a turf horse in the final quarter-mile. Both the teletimer and Trakus fractions agree that he shaded 24 seconds for his fourth quarter-mile, during which he spurted away from the field. Obviously, the slow pace allowed him to pull off such a feat, but it’s still an incredible thing to see out of a 2-year-old in just the third start of his career.
The concern with Maximus Mischief is the pace. Just glancing at his past performances in TimeformUS PPs, there is a lot of blue scattered across his running lines, indicating that he has been involved in nothing but slow-paced races. While he possesses the speed to obtain a forward position this time, I agree with the Pace Projector that he is unlikely to be in front heading into the first turn. Can he still run those massive speed figures after rating behind horses? He’s passed every test up until this point, so I have little reason to doubt it, but it is still a nagging concern given his inevitably short price. It’s his race to lose.
#9, GLADIATOR KING (30-1): He contested a slow pace in the Remsen and backed up, and I expect that he’ll be nothing more than a minor nuisance for the favorite once again. Pass.
#10, GOING FOR GOLD (30-1): It would appear that this maiden is in the race to shakes things up, as he goes out for an owner who likes to do just that. He’s clearly fast enough to secure the early lead if that is the intent, but it won’t be easy from this outside draw. It’s hard to envision him being around at the finish, but he could have an impact on the outcome. Pass.
I believe that Maximus Mischief (#8) is the most likely winner of this race, but some minor concerns about his prospective trip leave me with enough doubt to get a little creative with my wagers. I want to bet Epic Dreamer (#3) to win as my primary alternative to the favorite. I see a legitimate path to victory for him, and the price should be fair enough. In larger exotic wagers, I also want to prominently use Harvey Wallbanger (#5) as a bomb. Mihos (#6) also makes plenty of sense and has to be included on any serious exacta and trifecta bets.
Exacta Key Box: 3,5 with 3,5,6,8
Trifecta: 3,6,8 with 3,5,6,8 with 3,5,6,8
Trifecta: 8 with 3,5 with 1,2