A brief, stressful moment during trainer Kiaran McLaughlin's vacation last November ended up yielding one of his trip's highlights.
While on a cruise with his family, the venerable conditioner pulled up the feed of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs Nov. 25 with the hopes of watching his charge Enticed stamp himself a classic contender for the year ahead. What McLaughlin saw on his phone ended up validating as much—though with more drama than he would have preferred—when the Godolphin homebred overcame a bumping incident around the first turn that left one jockey unseated, raced between horses in the aftermath, and remained unfazed to bring his head across the wire first in the 14-horse field.
"I couldn't even tell if he won the race or not. It was a close photo that went our way, but it was tough to see on my phone," McLaughlin recalled. "He's a big, strong colt that is very classy and does everything right. And we're just happy that he's continued on doing everything right."
McLaughlin hopes the next step in Enticed's progression takes place in person Feb. 3, when the dark bay colt faces 10 challengers during his seasonal bow in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull is a Road to the Kentucky Derby points race, where points toward a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) field will be awarded on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
In besting fellow Holy Bull entrant Tiz Mischief in the Kentucky Jockey Club, Enticed got an experience that solidified the decision by his connections to take a bit more patient approach with his development. Following his maiden win first time out at Saratoga Race Course Sept. 4, the son of Medaglia d'Oro finished third behind Firenze Fire and Good Magic in the Champagne Stakes (G1), an effort that full well could have led to a start in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 4.
Instead of shipping to Del Mar, McLaughlin and the Godolphin team opted not to ask too much too soon out of the beautifully-bred colt. It was a call that resulted in some pangs when Good Magic won the Juvenile en route to taking divisional honors, but one they happily stood by after watching Enticed deliver a thoroughly professional effort in his third career start.
"We talked about (the Breeders' Cup)," McLaughlin said. "I spoke to Jimmy Bell of Godolphin about possibly going to California, but it was a lot to do and we just felt like, in trying to do the right thing by the colt, it was best not to go to California. And it worked out very well. And I'm glad we did what we did.
"He got schooled pretty well (in the Kentucky Jockey Club) and hopefully got a good education out of that race. It was a full field and a little bit of traffic and crowded and he was very game to hang in there down the lane. For him, no change is a good thing. Everything is going well and we're happy that he's staying the same."
Out of multiple grade 1 winner It's Tricky, who was also trained by McLaughlin, Enticed will break from post 1 in the Holy Bull.
Trainer Dale Romans has entered a quartet of challengers in the race, although how many will start is still being determined. Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy and his stablemate Hollywood Star, both owned by Albaugh Family Stables, drew posts 2 and 6, respectively, for what would be their seasonal bows, but Albaugh general manager Jason Loutsch said at least one would likely be redirected to Tampa Bay Downs next week for the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3).
"We're going to look at it today and tomorrow and make a decision," Loutsch said. "If we do run, it will probably just be one of them. We're in the process now of putting the numbers together and doing our homework. This is a challenging year. There so many good 3-year-olds right now."
Free Drop Billy captured the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in October, but finished a disappointing ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"I have no excuse for Free Drop Billy. I've quit trying to make one," Romans said of the colt's Breeders' Cup effort. "He ran bad. Something wasn't right that day. Horses that he beat, beat him. We'll just draw a line through it."
One who is most certain to start this Saturday for Romans is Frank Jones Jr.'s Tiz Mischief, who has been training forwardly since that narrow runner-up loss to Enticed. The son of Into Mischief broke his maiden in his third start, at Keeneland in October, and rallied from 10th in the Kentucky Jockey Club to just lose the bob at the wire.
"He's doing great. He's moved forward. I think he's going to be a force to be reckoned with this year," said Romans, who also has Bandito entered. "He's been training lights out."
Audible, owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing, enters his 2018 debut off a pair of victories at Aqueduct Racetrack, while Calumet Farm's Pony Up returns to the main track after finishing a fast-closing second on turf in the Jan. 6 Kitten's Joy Stakes. The son of Aikenite finished a close second on dirt in his debut at Gulfstream in July before breaking his maiden over Gulfstream Park West's turf course in October and finishing second in the Pulpit Stakes on Gulfstream's turf.
Gulfstream Park, Saturday, February 03, 2018, Race 12
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Enticed (KY) Joel Rosario 122 Kiaran P. McLaughlin 3/1 2 2Free Drop Billy (KY) Luis Saez 122 Dale L. Romans 6/1 3 3Master Manipulator (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 116 Eric J. Guillot 20/1 4 4Audible (NY) Javier Castellano 116 Todd A. Pletcher 6/1 5 5Bandito (KY) Edgard J. Zayas 116 Dale L. Romans 20/1 6 6Hollywood Star (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 116 Dale L. Romans 12/1 7 7Tiz Mischief (KY) Robby Albarado 116 Dale L. Romans 4/1 8 8Pony Up (KY) John R. Velazquez 116 Todd A. Pletcher 8/1 9 9Tip Sheet (FL) Emisael Jaramillo 116 Stanley I. Gold 30/1 10 10Aequor (KY) Jose Lezcano 116 Gustavo Delgado 15/1 11 11Mississippi (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 116 Mark E. Casse 5/1
Gulfstream Park, Saturday, February 03, 2018, Race 12