After a quiet, snowy weekend, the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail are back in full force.
Gulfstream’s series of prep races gets underway on Saturday, January 30, and that pair of races will form the focus of this . The Derby preps get underway with the Holy Bull Stakes (GII). This race is the first of a graded stakes series continuing through the Fountain of Youth (GII) and culminating in the Florida Derby (GI).
The fillies also get a chance to take another step down the Oaks trail in the Forward Gal Stakes (GII). This is the first in Gulfstream’s trio of graded fillies’ preps; the series also includes the Davona Dale Stakes (GII) and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII).
Paul Mazur looks north to Aqueduct for their three-year-old prep races this weekend. Saturday’s card features the Withers Stakes (GIII). Due to the snow last week, the Busanda Stakes was delayed to Sunday, January 31; Paul will have a preview of that race as well, when it is drawn.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated on Thursday, January 28 to include morning lines. Updated on Saturday, January 30 to account for the scratch of DAD’S KIDDO.
Race 3: Forward Gal Stakes (GII), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 1:05pm CST
This race takes its name from Florida-bred Forward Gal. A winner of the Schuylkill, the Sorority, the Spinaway, and the Frizette, the daughter of Native Charger was named the champion two-year-old filly of 1970. She continued her winning ways at three, winning four more stakes that year. Despite being a Gulfstream stakes namesake, however, none of those stakes wins came in the state where she was bred, but rather in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The Forward Gal Stakes has always been a seven-furlong test over the Gulfstream main. It first earned a Grade III in 1986, and was promoted to a Grade II in 1991. It was downgraded to a GIII again in 1997, but shifted back to a GII in 2004. It has maintained that status ever since. Open Mind (1989) is the only Forward Gal winner to parlay that into an Oaks win, but there ahve been several other very classy winners. Miss Oceana (1984), victress in the Arlington-Washington Lassie (GI) the previous year, fell short in the Oaks, finishing second behind Lucky Lucky Lucky. But, Miss Oceana won six Grade I races across her two- and three-year-old years. Forever Together (2007) found her best as an older horse on the grass, winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf the following year. This year’s edition of the Forward Gal Stakes offers a purse of $200,000, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers. It drew a field of seven sophomore fillies to fight for those spoils.
CATHRYN SOPHIA enters this race as the buzz horse. She has raced just twice, but won convincingly both times. In October, she pummeled a six-furlong maiden special weight field at Parx by twelve lengths. She returned in November’s Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel, trying the same seven-furlong distance as the Forward Gal, and waltzed home by sixteen lengths. She has not been tested yet, but she will be tested here. CATHRYN SOPHIA has never faced this class of horses. She has never had to survive a prolonged contested pace — whereas here, she will see plenty of both BALLET DIVA and ISLAND SAINT in the early stages. RONTOS LILY could even be there, since she finally graduated last out — in her first try on the lead. The pace will be at least hot, and may even fall apart. Finally, trainer Jason Servis is 0-8 on the Gulfstream meet, and an even more worrying 0 for his last 29 in graded stakes races. Finding a short price on CATHRYN SOPHIA attractive…that would be the gin talking.
This space has been waiting for CONQUEST BABAYAGA to try dirt for a while now. Being by Uncle Mo out of a Lawyer Ron mare, she should take nicely to the surface. She does so here, and could not have picked a more fitting spot. The seven-furlong distance should work nicely for her, as both of her previous races have come over that trip. She graduated emphatically in her debut over the Woodbine polytrack, and then finished second behind the promising Ami’s Mesa in the Glorious Song Stakes next out. Both times, she got the sort of stalk-and-pounce trip that should serve her beautifully here. She has not raced since November 21, but trainer Mark Casse wins at a respectable 16% off similar lays, and she has a worktab stretching back to the middle of December. She has been working shaprly, and she should be fit.
If one of the speed brigade hangs on, BALLET DIVA seems most likely. She is a speedier type, but two starts back in the House Party Stakes, she was on a contested pace and stayed on to win two lengths clear of DAD’S KIDDO. That came with rider Jose Caraballo aboard; he returns here. This gives her a better contested pace resume than CATHRYN SOPHIA (the untested chalk) or ISLAND SAINT) who faded to third in the Sorority last year after pressing). BALLET DIVA also has a win in her only start at seven furlongs, so she brings some extended sprint form to the table. Finally, BALLET DIVA is known to like Gulfstream, with three wins and two thirds in six starts over the course.
With the only scratch being that of DAD’S KIDDO, the pace should still be hot enough for DISCO ROSE to nab a share at a price. A mid-pack type, DISCO ROSE should be well suited by the pace scenario. She was third behind Lewis Bay in the Demoiselle (GII) last time out. She has not raced since that race on November 28, but has a pair of razor-sharp works leading into the Forward Gal. She has never done an extended sprint. Still, she may like it — she has some solid enough route races, and though five furlongs did not quite suit her, her sprint breedin suggests seven just may. With short-priced CATHRYN SOPHIA and ISLAND SAINT unattractive betting propositions on the front, the value lies in betting that DISCO ROSE will relish that cutback.
#3 CONQUEST BABAYAGA (7/2)
#5 BALLET DIVA (15/1)
#7 DISCO ROSE (8/1)
Longshot: The longshot writer will not be out of bed for the 1:05pm post, even if it is Gulfstream Standard Time.
Race 11: Holy Bull Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:05 CST
This race, the first of Gulfstream Park’s series of formal Kentucky Derby prep races, was inaugurated in 1990 as the Preview Stakes. It was renamed in 1996 to honour Florida-bred Hall of Fame inductee Holy Bull. A winner of thirteen of his sixteen lifetime starts, the Bull took the Florida route down the Derby trail in 1994. He won the Hutcheson Stakes (then a Grade II), and though he faltered and finished sixth in the Fountain of Youth (GII), he came back and won the Florida Derby (GI) easily. Though he failed as the favourite in the Kentucky Derby, he returned Memorial Day weekend to romp over older horses in the Met Mile (GI). That race began a six-race win streak for him. It only ended when he suffered a career-ending injury in the Donn Handicap (GI), during his anticipated match-up with Cigar. He retired to stud; after siring horses such as Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Giacomo and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner Macho Uno, he now lives pensioned at Darley’s Jonabell Farm.
Three-year-old Holy Bull dominates elders in the 1994 Woodward Stakes (GI).
Currently run at 1 1/16 miles, the Holy Bull Stakes has been run at distances as short as a mile and as long as 1 3/16 miles. A Grade III for much of its history, it gained its current Grade II status 2014. Two winners of this race have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. Go for Gin, who won this race in 1994, prevailed over Holy Bull himself in the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro also won this race in 2006. This year’s edition features a $350,000 purse (down $50,000 from 2011-2015), as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers. Once again, Lambholm South serves as the sponsor of this race.
MOHAYMEN is the best of the New York Derby Prep crop so far, but now trainer Kieran McLaughlin has taken his show on the road to sunny Florida. So far, the decision to ship him to Florida looks like a wise one. After all, MOHAYMEN looks head and withers (no, not that Withers) the one to beat here. Sure, he is undefeated in three starts. Sure, he is the fastest horse of the bunch on paper. But, he is also the only one in the field of six who has a real inclination to get on the lead. Though he rallied from just off the pace in the Remsen and the Nashua, he was on a contested pace for much of his maiden win, and scored by half a length. Though MOHAYMEN does not need the lead, he may be the only one here who wants it, and that could spell trouble for everyone else.
Looking at the rest of the field, it is heavily stratified. There’s Grade I winner GREENPOINTCRUSADER, the New York darling before MOHAYMEN burst on the scene. There’s CONQUEST BIG E, a sharp allowance winner at Churchill with fall form lines through Brody’s Cause. And…there’s the rest. There’s PERFECT SAINT, a Churchill maiden winner but well beaten in two starts since. There’s FELLOWSHIP, a stakes winner in Florida Stallion company, but hopelessly beaten in the Mucho Macho Man last out. And, there’s FRONTIER RANGER, a longshot third in the Cherry Wine allowance, but unlikely to get much pace to close into here.
When all is said and done, CONQUEST BIG E and GREENPOINTCRUSADER look like a 2/2B behind MOHAYMEN. CONQUEST BIG E gets the slight nod because he will likely be the longer price, and because he will likely get first run in the unlikely event MOHAYMEN falters. Shipping Mike Smith out to ride suggests his connections mean business, and he is never a bad rider to have in your corner on a big race day. Trainer Mark Casse has also been having a strong Gulfstream meet, with nine wins and 15 more money finishes in 44 starts. CONQUEST BIG E would have to take a huge step up to beat MOHAYMEN here, but he should figure on speed and pace. GREENPOINTCRUSADER was close enough to the pace in his debut to suggest that he does not have to rally from the caboose crew to get the job done, but will not likely be as close in as CONQUEST BIG E. He also comes in off an even longer lay — he has been off since the Breeders’ Cup, whereas both MOHAYMEN and CONQUEST BIG E last raced in last November. It is hard to count GREENPOINTCRUSADER completely out. A son of Bernardini out of the prolific Ava Knowsthecode should get the distance just fine, and full brother Algorithms got his picture taken after the 2012 Holy Bull. He also has the riding services of 26% Gulfstream rider John Velazquez. Still, he has his work cut out for him given the short field and the lack of speed.
#2 MOHAYMEN (6/5)
#4 CONQUEST BIG E (7/2)
#5 GREENPOINTCRUSADER (8/5)
Longshot: Dale Romans was expected to have an entry in the Holy Bull, and he does. However, most people expected him to enter Cherry Wine. Instead, he entered #1 PERFECT SAINT (20/1). It seems a wise move on Romans’s part. Cherry Wine may have form down at Gulfstream — and may have walloped this particular stablemate in a allowance last time out — but that one would do his best with far more pace than signed up for the Holy Bull. PERFECT SAINT has shown form closer to the pace, with his win at Churchill coming from relatively close to the going at Churchill, and a third-place finish while pressing the pace at Keeneland. Both of those races came at a mile and a sixteenth, the same distance as the Holy Bull. They also both came with Corey Lanerie aboard; Lanerie returns today. Sure, these are gossamer threads to recommend PERFECT SAINT. But, anyone venturing past the big three could do far worse than this particular iteration of Dale Romans At A Price.
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