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Mr. Speaker, trained by last year's Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Shug McGaughey, headlines the Holy Bull Stakes (Photo courtesy of Coglinese Photos/Kenny Martin).

The Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes is a significant stepping stone on both the road to the Florida Derby (March 29) and the Road to the Kentucky Derby, earning the top four finishers points in the latter that will become notable as the season progresses.

Upgraded from grade 3 to grade 2 for this year's running because of its historical importance to the 3-year-old picture, the 2014 Holy Bull field is led by Mr Speaker, winner of the Grade 3 Dania Beach Stakes on grass last month. Owned by Phipps Stable and trained by Shug McGaughey, who won last year's Kentucky Derby with Orb, Mr Speaker may only need to transition to dirt to win his third race in a row. Next in terms of stakes accomplishments is Cairo Prince, winner of the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes and runner-up in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes when last seen in November.

Remsen third place finisher Wicked Strong was only a half-length behind Cairo Prince and could improve to be a contender as well. Almost Famous finished fourth in his only previous stakes try (in the Street Sense Stakes in October) but won his other two races leading from start to finish. Conquest Titan showed good form last August in top company when victorious in the Swynford Stakes then ran poorly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but may have turned a corner with a strong win at the end of November. Big Bazinga is another proven competitive at the level, having finished second (by a half-length) in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes last fall. Financial Mogul closed fast from 11th of 12 to get second behind Cairo Prince in the Nashua Stakes and returns from nearly three months off. Coup de Grace and Our Caravan both have positive experience over the track in their favor as both won smartly at Gulfstream last month and either or both could have a say in the outcome if they continue to improve. Best Plan Yet won the In Reality Stakes at this distance two races ago, in October, but finished last of nine recently over the track in the Gulfstream Park Derby. Intense Holiday finished fourth in the Remsen following a similar fourth place finish in the Nashua and has yet to demonstrate he can compete at this level.

Mr Speaker was pretty impressive when powering off to win by nearly three lengths last month in the Dania Beach Stakes, earning a career best 100 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. That figure is the best Equibase Figure of any horse in this field and with prospect for improving upon it in his second start after being away from the races for two months, Mr Speaker may just need to prove he can run as well on dirt after four races on grass. Having been in regular training on dirt and particularly with a strong recent workout, second best of 24 on the day for a half-mile at Payson Park Training Center, there appears to be little question as to whether Mr Speaker can transform his recent grass form to the main track.

Our Caravan is giving away experience to the rest of the field as he is the only horse in the race to have only run one time. That race, on December 14 at Gulfstream, was at the distance of the Holy Bull and it was a winning effort in a field of 12. It is fairly difficult to debut successfully at Gulfstream around two-turns as Our Caravan did. Showing a lot of maturity when rallying from sixth of 12 in the early stages to win by three lengths with a 92 Speed Figure, Our Caravan has potential to improve dramatically in this race and can post the upset if Mr Speaker disappoints.

Almost Famous led from start to finish to win in his career debut last September with a strong 92 (the same as Our Caravan) then tried stakes company at the end of October and faded to fourth. Brought back just a few weeks later, this time in blinkers, Almost Famous once again controlled the tempo on the front end and won with ease, by six lengths in a field of 10 and with a new career best 93 figure. Since that win came at the distance of the Holy Bull and with it appearing no other horse will want to take him on for the lead in the early stages, Almost Famous could control the pace from the start and pose an elusive target in the late stages.

Coup de Grace and Cairo Prince are two more contenders that land just shy of top three status in my opinion. Coup de Grace has put in back-to-back 95 efforts in his two races, both around one turn, so the main question is whether he can run as well in this two-turn race. Cairo Prince is already a stakes winner, having taken the one-turn Nashua Stakes in November (100 Speed Figure), before missing by a nose in the Remsen Stakes at the end of November. The main question surrounding whether Cairo Prince can run as well in the Holy Bull is whether he may be a bit short of 100% ready off an eight week layoff. Other than that he fits on all counts as a contender.


Cairo Prince Inside

Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglinese

The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Best Plan Yet (93), Big Bazinga (97), Conquest Titan (95), Financial Mogul (96), Intense Holiday (92), and Wicked Strong (92).

My Selections:

Mr Speaker

Our Caravan

Almost Famous

$400,000 Holy Bull Stakes

Saturday, Race 10, Gulfstream Park, 5:03 PM E.T.

One Mile And One Sixteenth, 3-year-olds







Coup de Grace (KY)

John Velazquez


Chad Brown


Financial Mogul (KY)

Jose Ortiz


Rick Violette Jr.


Best Plan Yet (FL)

Edgard Zayas


Stanley Gold


Almost Famous (KY)

Calvin Borel


Pat Byrne


Our Caravan (KY)

Corey Lanerie


Michael Dilger


Mr Speaker (KY)

Jose Lezcano


Shug McGaughey


Cairo Prince (KY)

Luis Saez


Kiaran P McLaughlin


Wicked Strong (KY)

Javier Castellano


Jimmy Jerkens


Conquest Titan (KY)

Shaun Bridgmohan


Mark Casse


Big Bazinga (KY)

Joe Bravo


Katerina Vassilieva


Intense Holiday (KY)

Joel Rosario


Todd Pletcher


Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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