His slate-gray tail streaming behind him, favored Cairo Prince set sail for home in the $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 25 at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO), solidifying his status as one of the main contenders to watch on the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The Pioneerof the Nile colt won by 5 3/4 lengths over 10 other 3-year-olds at the South Florida track while carrying high weight of 122 pounds. The 2-1 choice added to his previous graded stakes victory—the Nov. 3 Nashua (gr. II)—and returned from a tough beat by a nose behind Honor Code in the Nov. 30 Remsen (gr. II).
Cairo Prince could be headed for a rematch with Honor Code in the Feb. 22 Besilu Fountain of Youth (gr. II), or could wait to run until the March 29 Besilu Florida Derby (gr. I), trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.
"I love for the horse to make the statement, but it's hard not to get excited when you have these kind," McLaughlin remarked. "He just had a beautiful trip...He won carrying 122, giving a lot of weight away. We'll see how it goes. I hope he stays as good as he is today. He'll have one or two more (races)."
Jockey Luis Saez gave Cairo Prince the perfect ride in the 1 1/16-mile event, stalking early fractions set from the rail by an overeager Coup de Grace and contested by Almost Famous. While the frontrunner went a quarter in :23.63 and a pressured half in :46.75, Cairo Prince made steady progress from fifth up to third, until he was in a prime spot to pounce from the three path after three-quarters in 1:10.30.
Meanwhile, Chad Brown reported the race was lost early on by Coup de Grace.
"He broke bad and then he rushed up," the trainer said. "He just wasn't comfortable there, pulling; it just wasn't the trip I was looking for."
Almost Famous inherited the lead when Coup de Grace stopped abruptly on the inside heading into the final turn, but the eventual winner was looming large and assumed command with no one to threaten him. He continued under urging through a mile in 1:35.41, and drew clear after straightening away to complete the distance on a fast track in 1:42.16, less than half a second off River Seven's track record of 1:41.73.
"He broke so well and the whole race I kept him in the clear," Saez said. "When we got to the half-mile pole, I know I have a lot of horse. When we got to the three-eighths pole, I knew I could win the race. So when we came into the stretch I asked him and he responded. He just took off. I had so much horse. He's a nice horse.
"I felt like I was in control pretty much. I didn't have any trouble. I know everyone wanted to beat me so I kept him in the clear and when we came into the stretch I felt I was going to win the race. He's very special. He's one of the best horses I've ridden in my life."
Conquest Titan ran a big race for trainer Mark Casse as well, circling the entire field from 11th to be second under Shaun Bridgmohan. Intense Holiday, 10th early on from post 11, also circled and checked in half a length back of the runner-up to show for Todd Pletcher.
"It was a nice run, we were happy with it," Casse said. "We had hoped to not be so far back, but going into the first turn, they sandwiched him, so Shaun did the right thing and took him back. This is not the easiest place to come from out of it. We wanted to know if he fit with these horses and I think he proved that today. He has a special place he likes really well (Churchill Downs) and they run there on the first Saturday in May, so that's good. I'll have to talk to the owner, but we'll probably stay here (for the 3-year-old series)."
"I thought he ran super," Pletcher said of Intense Holiday. "It was a tough post, but we were able to get a pretty good trip from there. He put in a really good middle move, and then I think he maybe hung a little bit, but he made up a lot of ground. The winner was very good today, but I'm pleased with his effort."
"Obviously, we're holding a strong hand with this colt," said McLaughlin, who conditions Cairo Prince for Namcook Stables, Paul Braverman, Harvey A. Clarke, and Craig W. Robertson III. "We feel very confident moving forward. You just hope we keep going forward because things happen to horses all the time. We just want to keep him the same happy and healthy horse and keep going.
"He trains exceptionally well. He's got a great mind. A lot of times you don't get those two things in the same package. He does everything right and he is a neat horse to be around. He's got a great stride and a great mind."