Sunday, January 29, 2012

Holy Bull Stakes=Official Kickoff to Kentucky Derby Trail

Is there really an official start to those owners, trainers and jockeys seeking a blanket of roses on the first Saturday in May? Sure...maybe...If you want to go all the way back to the breeding shed, breaking rings, auction houses, etc. etc. There is far too much that goes into bringing a horse from the farm to the track that yours truly knows nothing about and means so much at every step in turning an awkward yearling into a championship caliber Thoroughbred. The beginning, then, can be stated and restated in many different ways. For my purposes the trail to Kentucky Derby 138 starts today with the Holy Bull.

Why, you ask the Holy Bull? 
  • The track - Gulfstream Park, which has helped produce two Derby winners and several other contenders in the last seven years. The only other track to produce such consistency recently is Oaklawn Park. 
  • The purse - $400,000 is big for a Grade III stakes and necessary for owners looking to get into the Derby starting gate. With over 600 horses entered every year for the Triple Crown and only 20 allowed into the Churchill starting gate based on graded stakes earnings, horses usually need to earn between $175,000 to $225,000 to make the cut. Today's winner's share is $240,000, which is overkill for Hansen due to his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win. Any other of the five starters just about guarantee's its human connections a Derby starter with a win.
  • The timing - for 21st century trainers, who like lots of rest in between starts, Gulfstream's major Derby prep races are nicely spaced at about a month apart. The Florida Derby is scheduled five weeks out from the Run for the Roses. 
With all this being said, I am quite surprised with only six starters in today's Holy Bull. Hansen is the obvious standout, but what if he needs a race and owner/trainer aren't all that concerned with winning today? Go luck finding another to take top honors.

If pressed, I'd go with Todd Pletcher's Algorithms. He's well-bred top and bottom, two-for-two and most importantly he won a sprint from off the pace at Gulfstream, which is almost unheard of. Even just a quick glance at the Holy Bull's past performances will tell you that just about any of these can or will vie for the lead. Johnny Velazquez doesn't ride here for Pletcher, but Javier Castellano is having another great meet down south and always rides well for Pletcher.

With plenty of twist and turns ahead on our way to Kentucky Derby 138, I will try to keep pace each Sunday here at my home blog, while also contributing to my Derby Wars blog at Horse Racing Nation on Saturdays. Hope to see you here or there each of the next 14 weeks...

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