This week, Picks and Ponderings stays in Hallandale Beach, and looks at a pair of three-year-old points races.
Gulfstream has been a live spur of the Kentucky Derby trail in recent years, and the first of its prep series is this Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G2). The race offers a $350,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to its top four finishers. The Gulfstream Park spur of the Kentucky Oaks trail also gets underway on Saturday with the Forward Gal Stakes (G3). The seven-furlong race, open to three-year-old fillies, drew nine to vie for a purse of $150,000 as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points allotted 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.
Race 9: Forward Gal Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:07pm EST
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 3 in 1986, and was promoted to a Grade 2 in 1991. It was downgraded to a G3 again in 1997, but shifted back to a G2 in 2004. It has maintained that status ever since. Two Forward Gal winners have eventually parlayed that into a blanket of Kentucky Oaks lilies: Open Mind in 1989, and Cathryn Sophia in 2016. Beyond that pair, there have 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.
Eventual Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia makes easy work of the 2017 Forward Gal Stakes.
Many of the contenders in this year’s nine-horse Forward Gal are speed horses. FASHION FAUX PAS has wired her last two starts at six furlongs. BRUNETTE PRINCESS has already shown hot early speed, and now adds blinkers for the first time. JELTRIN had her done her best on the front. And, FEEDBACK’s only start had her pressing the pace.
This gives the versatile BYE BYE J a good chance to rack up her second career stakes win. BYE BYE J hounded the pace last time out, when she won the House Party Stakes over this track, but that’s not her only game. Her debut had her stalking just a bit further off the pace, and she rallied frm near the rear for third in her allowance try in November. This suggests she is a multi-dimensional horse. BYE BYE J has not yet run seven furlongs before, but her pedigree suggests she can get the extra distance: her dam won at distances as long as a mile, and sire Uncaptured was excellent at extended one-turn trips. She has also shown the ability to run well fresh. Though the House Party was almost two montsh ago, BYE BYE J won on debut in April, and then finished a credible third against boys in that turf allowance when she returned in November.
Though FEEDBACK will be a short price, there is enough to like that you can’t discount her entirely. Among the speed horses, at least she has proven that she can sit just off and prompt the pace, which she did in her resounding debut victory in a maiden special weight at Saratoga in August. She did that with rider Irad Ortiz in the irons; Ortiz returns today. That came at six and a half furlongs, which bodes well for her to handle seven furlongs today. Though she has been on the shelf for almost half a year, trainer Chad Brown wins at an astounding 28% with runners off similar layoffs, and he has sent her out for regular local drills since late December. All in all, FEEDBACK looks the best of the true front-end set.
HOLLYWOOD GLORY, drawn near the outside, intrigues. Though she fought on the pace last time out, in an off-turf stakes race at Aqueduct, her better game has her coming a bit off the early pace. The race setup suggests she will get that kind of trip today. Though she hasn’t raced at Gulfstream yet, she has had since mid-December to work out locally and acclimate, and the Belmont form shows she can handle an extended one-turn trip. The connections also interest. HOLLYWOOD GLORY also switches to Jose Ortiz in the irons. Ortiz has caught fire recently at Gulfstream, carving out crafty trips and posing for win pictures regularly. Though trainer Mark Hennig has only won just once in sixteen starts on the meet, the five seconds and three thirds suggest that he is still placing horses competitively and they are running well enough to be factors. HOLLYWOOD GLORY has to step forward to be a winner, but if she does, her running style and her connections make her an intriguing price option.
#7 BYE BYE J (5/1)
#4 FEEDBACK (6/5)
#8 HOLLYWOOD GLORY (10/1)
Longshot: #9 FROND (12/1) broke her maiden on debut over a sloppy track at Tampa Bay Downs, and now advances straight to the big girls’ table. However, there are a few reasons why she can make that jump. Her maiden victory came at seven furlongs, the same specialist distance as the Forward Gal. That day, she sat off the pace and rallied, proving that she can run the sort of race that should succeed in the Forward Gal, with so much speed signed on. FROND adds Lasix for the first time, a move with a healthy positive ROI for trainer Ben Colebrook. And, she gets top Gulfstream rider Luis Saez in the irons. All of these things point to a horse who should be a long price, and have a better shot in the Forward Gal than the tote board might suggest.
Race 11: Holy Bull Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:13pm 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 2), and though he faltered and finished sixth in the Fountain of Youth (G2), he came back and won the Florida Derby (G1) 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 (G1), during his anticipated match-up with Cigar. He then retired to stud, siring horses such as Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Giacomo and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Macho Uno.
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 3 for much of its history, it gained its current Grade 2 status in 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.
Barbaro holds in a wet 2006 renewal of the Holy Bull Stakes.
Gulfstream has a well-earned reputation for being friendly to speed horses, but this year’s field of ten for the Holy Bull appears to have drawn every frontrunning three-year-old on the Gulfstream grounds. The best proven of the speed brigade, and of the field, is MAXIMUS MISCHIEF. He has been untested in three starts, but he also hasn’t ever run far from the front end. The Remsen was a good sign in that he stretched out to two turns and showed the ability to press the pace through the early stages. But, with so much other speed combined with the fact that he has not raced in two months, he is going to have to come back fit and ready enough to tackle his most difficult challenge yet. At a short price he might do it, but he is difficult to get enthusiastic about playing.
MIHOS could not be better spotted. He comes out of the Mucho Macho Man, the local prep for the Holy Bull, so he has proven he can handle the footing. He also sat off a hot pace that day, rallying to score by a neck, so he has the running style to succeed in a race that just might fall apart. The remaining question for MIHOS is the stretch out to a route, since he has not gone two turns yet. But, the pedigree suggests he can: he is by Cairo Prince out of Feline Flatline, an unraced daughter of Jinny’s Gold, a multiple graded stakes placed turf router who went on to produce Sharla Rae, a G1 winner at nine furlongs on the grass. The connections also stand out: trainer Jimmy Jerkens has been strong this winter, with two wins and three other placings in eight starts, and rider John Velazquez takes the call. Though Velazquez is new to Mihos, it stands out that despite the fact that he regularly rides for Todd Pletcher, he neither sticks with Federal Case in the Holy Bull nor remains with Moretti in the Withers.
One other runner is well proven at Gulfstream and has the rate-and-rally style that should succeed in this race: rail-drawn GARTER AND TIE. He has some tables to turn on MIHOS, as he finished third beaten two and a half behind that foe in the Mucho Macho Man. But, he has a long resume of good races at Gulfstream, and back races that suggest he can find more third off the lay. He also has one race at two turns. He did finish a well-beaten second in that, the Florida Sire In Reality Stakes last September. But, that day, he was left behind a horse who set an easy pace and drew away — and the third place horse was another 14 1/2 lengths behind GARTER AND TIE. With a knock-down, drawn out pace battle in front of him, GARTER AND TIE gets a better setup in this try at two turns.
#6 MIHOS (5/2)
#8 MAXIMUS MISCHIEF (1/1)
#1 GARTER AND TIE (12/1)
Longshot: #5 HARVEY WALLBANGER (15/1) has been laid off since winning a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs in mid-November. The race record suggests that his connections have always figured him for a two-turn horse: trainer Ken McPeek debuted him at six furlongs at the Spa, but then each of his next three starts came at a mile and a sixteenth. In all three of those two-turn starts, HARVEY WALLBANGER dropped well off the pace — a style that should work well in this race with all the speed in front of them. He finally put it together in his third try at two turns — the first time Brian Hernandez got in the saddle. Hernandez returns for this, and should be able to get him a nice late-running trip.
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