Nine colts, led by last year’s 2YO Champ, are set to contest Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/16 mile, Grade 2 event is the first of three Florida prep races for the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The qualifying points are 10-4-2-1. 



Since 2000, the only horse to pull off the Holy Bull / Kentucky Derby double is Barbaro.   Closing Argument placed second in both races.  


The Favorite:

All eyes will be on CLASSIC EMPIRE as he makes his three-year-old debut. Yes, he’s the class of the race, and he’s expected to make short work of his rivals. Two Juvenile Champs started their 3YO season in the Holy Bull Stakes, both finished second; Hansen in 2012 and Shanghai Bobby in 2013.  So, it isn’t inconceivable that Classic Empire could lose.   From a class and record standpoint, he stands head and withers above the rest.  On an interesting side note, Classic Empire’s sire Pioneerof the Nile gave us 2014 Holy Bull victor Cairo Prince. Read Classic Empire’s Pedigree Profile.


Could Upset:

If Classic Empire is a little rusty, the brilliant and undefeated FACT FINDING (The Factor – Sweet Belle, by Deputy Commander) could lead them on a merry chase. Todd Pletcher has brought the pretty gray colt along conservatively. After capturing his initial start, Fact Finding beat allowance foes next out. In his third start, Fact Finding outclassed his rivals by seven lengths in the  Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream, setting a new stakes record for the mile race in 1:36.98 over a sloppy track. This will be Fact Finding’s first two-turn attempt, but the colt’s pedigree indicates that he should handle it. His graded stakes placed dam won at a mile on dirt and at 1 1/8 miles over the lawn.

Worth a Second Look:

GUNNEVERA is also making his 3YO debut in the Holy Bull. He doesn’t have the tactical speed of the top pair, but that could be a good thing in the long run. Trainer Antonio Sano wisely kept the Chestnut colt out of the Breeders’ Cup and was rewarded with a powerful 5 ¾ length victory in the Delta Jackpot. Gunnevera’s sire Dialed In captured the 2011 Holy Bull and Florida Derby. His damsire Unbridled won a stirring edition of the Kentucky Derby. This colt should improve with maturity and distance.  Read Gunnevera’s Pedigree Profile.


Last seen in the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes, TALK LOGISTICS raced in heavy traffic for most of way, finally getting clear around the 1/8 pole. He closed ground on the battling top pair and missed by only 1 ¼ length. By High Cotton, Talk Logistics has s sprinter/miler pedigree but should handle 1 1/6 miles. There’s quality in his female family, too. He’s a half-brother to Grade 3 stakes placed miler Schivarelli and the stakes-winning sprinter B C’s Train.


Exotic Plays:

IRISH WAR CRY is too fast for the Maryland horses, so he’ll face bigger and better in the Holy Bull.  The son of Curlin captured his debut by 4 ½ lengths and returned to win the seven-furlong Marylander Stakes by a nose after a prolonged battle. In both starts, he threw down triple-digit late pace speed figures. Irish War Cry has the pedigree to appreciate longer distances and is making his two-turn debut. He’s a half-brother to the stakes placed sprinter Irish Politics.


FIRE FOR EFFECT is a last out maiden winner. The field he beat wasn’t that strong, but he did it the right way. Stuck in traffic and eating mud for most of the race, the colt finally found a seam. In a well-timed ride by Corey Lanerie, they scored by a narrow half-length.  By Smart Strike out of a turf stakes winning daughter of More Than Ready, Fire For Effect could enjoy longer distances.


Needs a Career Best:

Has Kiaran McLaughlin figured out the key to SHAMSAAN? The Holy Bull will be the colt’s first race on dry dirt. After three off the board finishes on turf and mud in New York, Shamsaan shipped to Florida and triumphed over maidens by 9 ¾ lengths over a sloppy Gulfstream Track.  Shamsaan is by Bernardini out of a daughter of Dynaformer. His dam is a full sister to multiple stakes placed turf router Cognashene and a half sister to Canadian Champion 2YO filly Catch The Thrill. Shamsaan’s second dam is Canadian Champion 3YO Filly Catch The Ring.  There’s no doubt that Shamsaan should handle 1 1/8 miles to 1 ¼ miles and he has a classy family. But questions surround this colt. Was the competition easier than what he previously faced or is he starting to mature? 


CAVIL faced Talk Logistics in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. After chasing the pace inside for half of the race, Cavil tired to finish sixth, 7 ¼ lengths behind. Shamsaan’s stablemate is capable of rebounding in his second start over the track. I don’t see him pulling an upset, but perhaps with a career best, he could fill out lower exotics. He’s well bred, by Elusive Quality out of a daughter of 3YO Champion Filly Ajina.


PERRO ROJO has hit the board once in six starts. All of his races have been over dirt, but that might not be his best surface. The colt has a classy pedigree; By Birdstone out of a half sister to 2YO Champion and sire Gilded Time, Perro Rojo is a half brother to Arlington Million (G1) hero Hardest Core and to multiple stakes placed turf miler, Calla Lilly. Calla Lilly bore two turf blacktype earners, Crittenden and Side Road.  I see green in his future….and it isn’t the winning purse from the Holy Bull Stakes.



Track bias:  Pace pressers have captured the last five editions of the Holy Bull, while two winners settled in mid-pack early.  Due to the track configuration, the starting gate is about ten strides from the first turn, so anybody in post 8+ is at a disadvantage. Three of the last five winners were making their three-year-old debut and had last raced in November.  The other two winners had recent preps at Gulfstream.  McLaughlin has conditioned two of the last three Holy Bull victors. Both colts were favored to win.


Classic Empire’s race to lose. He’s the class of the race. In the absence of need the lead speed types, the jockeys can play cat and mouse. Irish War Cry, Fact Finding and maybe Cavil could hustle for the early lead. Classic Empire may look to draft in behind the early speed. If Castellano can keep Gunnevera closer to the field within striking range, he could have a shot. 




#1 GUNNEVERA (9-2)