Mr Speaker will return to turf following a seventh-place finish in the $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III), his first start on dirt Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park, trainer Shug McGaughey said.
The Hall of Fame conditioner has another fast-developing prospect that bears watching on the Triple Crown trail in Top Billing, an impressive allowance winner earlier on the same card, however.
Speaking the morning after the Holy Bull, McGaughey said he felt that Mr Speaker did not transfer his strong grass form to the main track. The Phipps Stable homebred had won his last two starts on turf, including a rallying success in the Dania Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream.
Sent off as the 8-1 fourth choice in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, the Pulpit colt stalked the pace in third along the inside for Jose Lezcano during the early stages and was second after six furlongs. But he weakened in the stretch to finish nearly 11 lengths behind authoritative winner Cairo Prince .
"I was a little surprised that he was up that close, but the winner was sitting right on his tail," McGaughey pointed out. "I think at this point he's going to be better on the grass, so we'll go back to grass. I think the (3-year-olds) back around here are pretty good."
McGaughey mentioned the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) March 1 as a possible target for Mr Speaker.
Earlier on the card, Top Billing, making only his third lifetime start, caboosed an allowance field early, but circled his rivals on the far turn and was hand-ridden by jockey Joel Rosario to a 2 3/4-length success over Surfing U S A. The chestnut son of Curlin was timed in a solid 1:42.66, earning a 90 Beyer figure for his performance.
"I'm not sure who was behind him," McGaughey offered. "On paper it looked maybe better than it was, but for him to get back and make a run like that...he was an easy winner. I was impressed with him."
Top Billing will almost certainly find himself in stakes company next time, but it is unlikely that he would face off with leading stablemate Honor Code in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 22, McGaughey said.
Racing for the partnership of breeders William S. Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr., Top Billing has now won two of three starts. In his previous race, the 3-year-old lost a narrow decision to Commissioner —a highly regarded colt from the Todd Pletcher barn—in a Gulfstream allowance Jan. 3.
"I'll have to see how he comes out of it and I'll speak to (owner) Mr. Farish the first of the week," McGaughey said. "I'll figure out what he wants to do and how much pressure (Farrish) wants to put on him."