holy bull stakes

Hansen Gets a Free Pass in the Holy Bull

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Despite being very excited for the race, I had to lay down for my pre-work nap early yesterday, meaning I would have to miss the Holy Bull Stakes (III), which featured the return of the champ Hansen against five others. As I sandwiched my head in between two pillows (yes, this is really how I sleep), I felt uneasy: after scoring a couple bucks on El Padrino’s allowance win, the track had been downgraded to sloppy. Normally speed-favoring, Gulfstream Park got hit with a brief rainstorm and a beating of hooves leading up to the Holy Bull, and honestly nothing was remotely for sure when that happens. While the track had been sealed earlier, I canceled my pick 4– a spread that included Hansen as the winner of race 10– and went to sleep uneasy. Waking up, the seemingly unnatural came true.

Hansen was to have a tough race regardless, but every one of those horses liked being right up with the speed early. On a tiring, muddy surface after a stumble at the start, Hansen gave way in mid-stretch to the Bernardini colt, Algorithms, who went home to win by five– that’s one second that ultimately destroyed Hansen’s unbeaten streak and raised questions about his ability.

So, he failed the mud test, but is the mile-long Holy Bull really grounds to give Algorithms a higher class grade than Hansen just yet? Perhaps it’s patriotism empowering me, but it’s a simple “no” answer without looking back. I have not seen a horse like Hansen in quite some time, who not only wins convincingly but against top competition. Algorithms, on the other hand, still has something to prove. In a mile-long first test of the year where a good first-time Lasix entry trailed the field (Consortium) and the champ stumbled and grew frustrated with the surface, it’s too early to tell much.

Holy Bull himself may have had an undefeated two-year-old season, but he still came in last in the Fountain of Youth leading up to the Derby. For Hansen’s sake, let he encounter no more freak rainstorms.

Kentucky Derby Musings: Holy Bull Stakes

Early prep races for the Kentucky Derby are absolutely horrid to handicap. You have several horses, in this case eleven, most of whom are coming off sizeable layoffs and growth spurts with the intention of preparing for longer, more serious races than this one. But, Cairo Prince made for not just a fitting winner as a grandson of Holy Bull, but as a promising prospect as the distances get longer. There’s little more annoying to me than seeing sprinter types win Derby preps and everyone going up in arms that they’re going to win it all. Not so!

Many horses in the field, however, appeared to be the victims of poor trips or just not taking to the challenge of the race that well. Chad Brown and Fox Hill have since announced that it will be back to one-turns for Coup de Grace, who stopped running once he realized there was another turn at the end of the backstretch. Conquest Titan also made an impressive run late from way back, but was too late to catch the winner who held the advantage straight from the gate.

As mentioned, most of these horses are coming off layoffs and have a ways to go before the first Saturday in May fitness-wise. But I’m also curious as to how well some horses dealt with the pace as well as the track, which is normally speed-favoring. The field split into two groups during the race, with Cairo Prince coming from behind the pace in the first group to win easily with 2nd and 3rd place coming from way behind in the second group. Remove Cairo Prince from the equation, and it would have been a pretty boring race, but I would anticipate seeing these horses improve in their second starts off the layoff. I’m not a fan of Harlan’s Holiday progeny, but I recall Intense Holiday having a compromised trip in the Remsen and he did not look too awful here either. Regardless, Cairo Prince was much the best and even better when you take into account he did not utilize the fast rail, which added even more lengths to his trip.