With Big Drama sitting this one out, the $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park Jan. 31 will highlight the return of graded stakes winners Beethoven and West Side Bernie, as well as a gate full of new 3-year-old prospects.
The 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull drew 11 sophomores, with West Side Bernie and Beethoven stuck in the far outside posts. While that's enough to contend with in their 3-year-old debuts, at least they won't be facing Big Drama, the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) winner whose highly anticipated return was put on hold by trainer David Fawkes because of a recent training setback.
That changes the pace scenario enough to satisfy trainer Kelly Breen, whose West Side Bernie made a solid bid in the $750,000 Delta Jackpot Dec. 5 but had to settle for second, one length behind the loping Big Drama.
Breen, who conditions West Side Bernie for George and Lori Hall, was considering also running the Halls' Atomic Rain in the Holy Bull to ensure an honest pace. Instead, West Side Bernie, a Kentucky-bred son of Bernstein who won the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) at Turfway Park by three lengths last fall, will go it alone.
“I’d like to keep my two horses separated and I’d hate to kill two bullets in one race.” Breen said, with the goal for each being the $750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) on March 28. “‘Bernie’ has a legitimate shot at winning (the Holy Bull). Both have been second in their last races. I’m tired of that. I want to win. I like to win.”
Elivis Trujillo, who made the trip to Louisiana for the colt’s last race as well as his maiden breaker last summer at Monmouth Park, has the call on Bernie, who has $210,000 in graded earnings.
The most accomplished entrant in the Holy Bull is Beethoven, last seen winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) by a neck at Churchill Downs Nov. 29 for owner John Oxley and trainer John Ward Jr.
Beethoven, a $300,000 Keeneland yearling purchase by Sky Mesa , has been training effectively for his comeback at Palm Meadows. He will bid for his third straight victory. Beethoven worked five furlongs at Gulfstream Jan. 24, breezing in 1:01 3/5 for jockey Calvin Borel.
“This is a colt that really fits Calvin,” said Ward. “I told him ‘this is your kind of horse. He gives me heart attacks, but he’s your kind of horse.’ Calvin never rushes a horse away from the pole in a workout. He loves to wait and wait. It makes me worry, but he and this horse eventually turn it on.”
Danger to Society, undefeated in two starts for trainer Ken McPeek, will draw plenty of attention following his 3 1/2-length triumph in a first-level allowance heat over nine furlongs at Gulfstream Jan. 8. Danger to Society defeated several Holy Bull candidates in that race, drawing away impressively after pressing the pace.
Owned by Lansdon B. Robbins III and Samuel P. Delaney, the Harlan's Holiday colt began his career with a 1 1/2-length maiden victory at Churchill Downs Nov. 19. Ridden once more by Robby Albarado, Danger to Society was favored in both of his prior starts.
The Holy Bull will also be an important trial for James Scatuorchio’s Idol Maker. Trainer Todd Pletcher says he wants to see the son of Empire Maker make strides in his maturity after consecutive fourth-place finishes in his last two starts, including Aqueduct's Remsen (gr. II) Nov. 29, when he was 13 lengths behind Old Fashioned. In his most recent effort, Idol Maker tired to finish 4 3/4 lengths behind Danger to Society after setting the pace.
“Up to this point he hasn’t quite mentally figured things out,” said Pletcher. “He’s been typical in the way he’s trained, but from early on, we could see he was something of a slow learner. I think we’re seeing these Empire Makers get better with experience.”
Pletcher, who swept the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and the Florida Derby with Scat Daddy for Scatuorchio in 2007, has not been discouraged by the last two losses. Idol Maker won his career debut at Belmont Park Oct. 19.
“It’s clear he has a lot of talent,” he said. “It has been showing through in the mornings and he continues to improve. The talent is there, it’s just been the mental part that he’s had to overcome. He’s acting like that is starting to come around with his breezes.”
Rockland, making his stakes debut for Emory Hamilton and trainer Michael Matz, is a Kentucky homebred colt from the first crop of Smarty Jones . Rockland broke his maiden at Meadowlands in his second start last November and won an allowance last out, going 1 1/16 miles on turf at Calder Dec. 20.
My Meadowview Farm’s Nowhere to Hide, a $250,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase trained by Nick Zito, broke his maiden last out at Calder going a mile around two turns on Dec. 13. The son of Vindication ran well in each of four previous starts, finishing second twice and third once.
$150,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III, Race 7, 4:12 p.m.), 3-year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Bruce N Autumn (KY), 114, Edgar S. Prado
2. Danger to Society (KY), 114, Robby Albarado
3. Bear's Rocket (KY), 114, Kent J. Desormeaux
4. Saratoga Sinner (KY), 114, Julien R. Leparoux
5. El Crespo (KY), 114, Javier Castellano
6. Rockland (KY), 114, Jose Lezcano
7. Stately Character (KY), 120, Herb McCauley
8. Idol Maker (KY), 114, John R. Velazquez
9. Nowhere to Hide (KY), 114, Alan Garcia
10. West Side Bernie (KY), 122, Elvis Trujillo
11. Beethoven (KY), 122, Calvin H. Borel