Forget the Name: The Holy Bull Is No Bull When Talking Derby Preps

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The Holy Bull is the race that vaulted Tiz the Law into the front row of Kentucky Derby contenders. Never mind the fact he didn’t win the rescheduled Derby. It vaulted him to the Belmont Stakes title.

Greatest Honour-Holy Bull Preview
Greatest Honour already owns a 1 1/16-mile victory from December. He is the 5/2 favorite to win a deep Holy Bull Saturday at Gulfstream Park. (Image: Lauren King/Gulfstream Park)

Tiz the Law didn’t come out of the Holy Bull to a garland of roses. But Go for Gin (1994), Funny Cide (2003) and Barbaro (2006) all did. The likes of Closing Argument (2005), Mucho Macho Man (2011), Wicked Strong (2014), Mohaymen (2016), Classic Empire (2017) and Audible (2018) all came out of the Holy Bull to in-the-money Derby finishes.

Yes, Saturday’s Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, named after the 1994 Horse of the Year and Florida Derby winner Holy Bull, has Derby street cred. It opens Gulfstream Park’s three-race series for 3-year-olds that moves through the Fountain of Youth and culminates with the Grade 1 Florida Derby in late March.

The Holy Bull illustrated its one of those races that sends horses to Churchill Downs. Between 1991 and 2018, 41 Holy Bull alums made the Derby starting gate. Both Go for Gin and Barbaro won the Holy Bull en route to Derby glory. Funny Cide finished fifth in the 2003 Holy Bull.

Prime Factor Could Be a Choice Holy Bull Pick

This pedigree explains why this Holy Bull edition is one of the deepest in recent memory. Prime Factor (3/1) is one of the front-row Derby futures choices: 17/1 at Circa Sports, 22/1 at William Hill Nevada. At 21/1, the $900,000 Quality Road product was the sixth choice in the just-closed Kentucky Derby Futures Wager. And reasons for that weren’t hard to find.

Prime Factor opened his career destroying a Gulfstream maiden field by 8 ¾ lengths. He overwhelmed his rivals with pure speed – albeit at six furlongs. And there lies the reason the Todd Pletcher charge isn’t odds-on here. His pedigree: Quality Road by a Bernardini mare, illustrates distance isn’t an issue. But this is Prime Factor’s first two-turn trip and that’s always a key ask for horses at this point of their careers. Especially going from maidens to graded stakes.

So who’s the favorite? No, it’s not Sittin On Go (5/1), despite his Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes victory last fall. While that makes him the lone graded stakes winner in this field, his ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and sixth in the Kentucky Jockey Club make him a question mark here. So do his dwindling speed figures. This is his make-or-break Derby prep.

Does Amount, Matter Here?

Nor is it Amount (6/1), the “other Pletcher.” Like his stablemate, Prime Factor, Amount jumped to the first page of Derby futures contenders (23/1 Circa, 40/1 William Hill) by winning his debut impressively. He ran by his maiden field by 5 ¾ lengths – after getting bumped at the start. He overcame that and eating dirt kicked in his face. Whether he can improve his modest speed figures (84 Equibase) in his stakes debut is his pressing question.

No, the favorite – not least of which being he faces the fewest questions — is Shug McGaughey’s Greatest Honour (5/2). The Tapit progeny hit the board in all four of his races: a win, a second and two thirds. But what he did in his last race on Dec. 26 – that victory – warrants favorite status here.

At 1/2, Greatest Honour rallied from seventh after a poor start to win by 1 ½ lengths. His 104 Equibase Speed Figure is nine points higher than the next best in this field (Sittin on Go’s 95). It represented a 15-point jump from his previous best – an 89 in an October maiden special weight race at Belmont.

Greatest Honour Tackled Tough Fields

It bears mentioning Greatest Honor finished third in that race by only 1 ¾ lengths – only a length behind runner-up Caddo River. A month later, Greatest Honor finished second by a head to Known Agenda after rallying from seventh early.

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Should you venture deeper in your exotics, there’s Papetu (15/1), who broke his maiden in a summer allowance at Gulfstream, then ran into Jackie’s Warrior in his next two races. That resulted in a sixth in the Saratoga Special Stakes and a fifth in the Hopeful Stakes. He did rebound to take second in the Mucho Macho Man earlier this month, but needs to up his speed to contend here.

Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes/Gulfstream Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Jirifales, 20/1 (John Velazquez/Gustavo Delgado)
  2. Willy Boi, 10/1 (Junior Alvarado/Jeff Engler)
  3. Papetu, 15/1 (Leonel Reyes/Antonio Sano)
  4. Amount, 6/1 (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher)
  5. Tarantino, 8/1 (Edgard Zayas/Rodolphe Brisset)
  6. Prime Factor, 3/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Todd Pletcher)
  7. Greatest Honour, 5/2 (Jose Ortiz/Shug McGaughey)
  8. Sittin On Go, 5/1 (Corey Lanerie/Dale Romans)
  9. Awesome Gerry, 8/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Saffie Joseph Jr.)

The other intriguing candidate is Tarantino (8/1). Intriguing, because he goes from turf to dirt after going from Bob Baffert’s barn to Rodolphe Brissett’s. The $616,000 yearling purchase won twice and finished second in three starts – all on grass.

The second came by a nose in the Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita. The Pioneerof the Nile product should handle dirt well. But again, Tarantino’s speed figures (an 82 is his best) aren’t win-worthy in this field.

The pick: Greatest Honour. He’s done the two-turn thing and done it with more speed than his competitors. McGaughey – who needs the Holy Bull to complete the Gulfstream Park Derby Prep Trifecta – said distance is no object. “The farther, the better for him. I think he can run all day. He’s got enough of a kick that if he gets a little pace, he can challenge here.”

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