Trainer Stanley Gold will resist the temptation to run undefeated 3-year-old Awesome Banner in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 30 at Gulfstream Park, opting to send the Jacks or Better Farm homebred colt around one turn in the $150,000 Swale Stakes (gr. III) the same day.
"He's sprinted; he's fresh; he's been trained to sprint. Why would I want to stretch him out now? To go into the Holy Bull wouldn't make any sense, so he'll go in the Swale," Gold said. "He'll run the seven-eighths, and he'd probably be fit to run two turns. It seems like the right thing to do."
The Holy Bull carries qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), while the Swale does not. Gold is confident that Awesome Banner, a commanding winner in his only two starts, will be suited to two-turn races when the time is right.
"Two turns is not necessarily a mile and a quarter, if you're talking about the Kentucky Derby," Gold said "Will he go two-turns? Yes, he'll go a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Will he go a mile-and-a-quarter? Is he a Derby horse? Who knows? That'd be nice, but I'm not even going to think about it. I'm going to think about the Swale. The Swale isn't going to be easy. He'll run in the Swale and we'll go from there."
Awesome Banner debuted with a 9 3/4-length victory at Gulfstream, where he ran 4 1/2 furlongs in a track-record :51.07 June 5. A knee chip was discovered following his debut, and the Florida-bred colt underwent surgery. He was sidelined for six months before returning in the six-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Jan. 2. The son of Awesome of Course set a strong pace (:44.87 for the first half-mile), pressed to his inside and outside into the stretch, before he drew off powerfully to score by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:09.57.
Gold reported that Awesome Banner came out of the Hutcheson "like he didn't even run" and praised the smooth-striding colt's poise under pressure.
"He reacted like an experienced horse. He was ridden well and he rated well. He had the gas in the tank when you asked for it. The acceleration was there. That's what good horses have," said Gold, who will award the return mount to Jose Caraballo. "He listens to the rider. I've had horses that can really run, but they were hard-headed and did what they wanted, to their own detriment. This horse has it but waits until you ask for it."