Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 29, 2016 at 12:00 AM
With last year's hero American Pharoah off to the happy world of the breeding shed and already having banked close to a "studdish" $60 Million in fees it is time for the next Triple Crown chase.
The racing world needed to wait 37 years for American Pharoah so it isn't crazy to think the odds against another Triple Crown winner in 2016 are rather prohibitive. But dreams emerge easily as the top 3-year olds take to preparation. And though we had to wait since 1978 and Affirmed, it is also worth remembering that the year before Seattle Slew accomplished the historic feat and in 1973 so did Secretariat.
Before we get to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown, however, we will be afforded the opportunity to watch the development and take advantage of the competition this Saturday as the first two serious Kentucky derby Preps begin with the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct.
When it comes to the Grade II Holy Bull (1 1/16th Miles on the main track), which will award 10-4-2-1 Derby Qualifying Points to the first four finishers, trainer Kieran McLaughlin will send out the most probable post time favorite in Shadwell Stables' Tapit colt MOHAYMEN. And in doing so will hope that the (at this point) East Coast's top 3-year old will make "Three Times The Charm" a meaningful slogan.
MOHAYMEN is the third major Triple Crown contender McLaughlin has entered in the Holy Bull. In the 2014 edition winner Cairo was injured shortly thereafter and taken off the Triple Crown trail and last year Frosted finished second in the Holy Bull before continuing on to finish a well-regarded 4th in the Kentucky Derby and went on to be an eventual Grade I winner.
MOHAYMEN has worked brilliantly at the palm Meadows training center here in Florida as he looks to make his 3-year old debut. He raced three times as a juvenile with wins in a 6 furlong MSW test, a well-timed win in the one turn mile Grade II Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct before stretching out again and going two turns at Aqueduct in the mile and an eight Grade II Remsen Stakes.
Regular rider Junior Alvarado will be aboard the colt the connections have hinted might bed further along at this staged of his career than either Cairo or Frosted were in 2014 and 2015. If he runs to his record and works he will be tough.
However, it is far from an automatic walk over as both GREENPOINTCRUSADER (trained by Dominick Schettino) and CONQUEST BIG E (trained by Mark Casse) will make their 3-year old debuts.
When last seen GREENPOINTCRUSADER was a rallying seventh in the BC Juvenile at Keeneland but made up considerable ground and was beaten only 4 ½ lengths for it all. In the same race CONQUEST BIG E checked in right behind in 8th and was only beaten 4¾ lengths.
While GREENPOINTCRUSADER was finished for the year CONQUEST BIG E made one more start and easily eclipsed entry level allowance foes in a sloppy mile test at Churchill Downs on November 28. He has worked in hand at pam Meadows and will get the services of John Velazquez.
CONQUEST BIG E is another son of Champion Sire Tapit and is working brilliantly in South Florida. He has turned in a quartet of works with a pair of them registering bullets. It is also no small edge that he gets the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith for the first time and with no Stakes wins will only carry 116 pounds.
The field will be completed by a trio of runners looking to move forward from recent form and give their connections reason to continue on the Derby Trail.
Trainer Dale Romans swill look for improvement from PERFECT SAINT who has done little since breaking his maiden at CD on November 1. He returns quickly after making his 3-year old debut on January 9 in a two-turn allowance here in which he was beaten about 10 lengths by FRONTIER RANGER, who will also be saddled in the Holy Bull.
For his part, FRONTIER RANGER has shown interest and resiliency in his last pair. He wrapped up his 2-year old campaign with a rallying second at 52-1 in an entry level allowance two turn test on the GP turf on q12/13 and then returned in the 1/9 main track allowance to finish a rallying third at 32-1. The Ron Pelligrini trained gelding wouldn't have to move forward much to claim a piece at a price.
Completing the field is the Stanley Gold trained FELLOWSHIP, an Awesome Of Course colt who has claimed the Florida Stallion Series $500K In Reality Stakes here last October and after that was second in the Series' Juvenile Sprint at GPW. He has shown flashes as a juvenile but will need to improve off his up-the-track performance in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes her on January 2nd.
Up north at Aqueduct seven starters have been entered in the Grade III Withers Stakes, the first of three Aqueduct derby Preps, followed by the Grade II Gotham on March 12 and the Grade I Wood memorial on April 9.
The race will be run around two turns at a mile and a sixteenth and like the Holy Bull will award 10-4-2-1 Derby Qualifying Points to the first four finishers.
Let's take a brief look at the seven runners from the rail out.
DONEGAL MOON (15-1) – Trainer Todd Pletcher has not given up on the son of Malibu Moon but it is start anew time after a well-beaten fading 5th in the Grade II Remsen behind FLEXIBILTY, who he'll face again today. But the colt suffered another setback when he fell in his 2016 debut in the Grade III Jerome here on January 2nd and wheels right back following a pair of half mile breezes.
FLEXIBILITY (7-5) – The Chad Brown Bluegrass Cat colt has done little wrong in his four race career with a pair of victories, his MSW breaker in his debut followed by a pair of close-up seconds to Holy Bull favorite MOHAYMEN in the Grade II Nashua and Grade II Remsen before winning the Grade III Jerome by daylight in his 3-year old debut. He is the one they have to beat.
CARDS OF STONE (20-1) – The lightly raced Bustin Stones gelding lit up the tote board in his carder debut with a 38-1 win in a 6 furlong NYSB MSW victory. In his second career start he stretched out vs restricted entry level foes at a mile and a sixteenth test over the IDT three weeks ago and ran a strong second. In both career starts he has turned in competitive BRIS speed numbers and wouldn't need to improve much more for trainer James H. Bond to run much better than his morning line odds.
KING KRANZ (8-1) – There is no question this son of Munnings is fast and fit with 5 on the board finishes from 6 lifetime starts, including second as a maiden in career start number three in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont this past fall and his initial career win last out when he won the $125K Lost In The Fog Stakes here 4 weeks ago. He is likely the pace setter but the question is…can he carry the speed as this will be the first time he goes further than 6 ½ furlongs.
VORTICITY (8-1) – The James Lawrence trained son of Distorted Humor has to be considered a live runner, especially if he goes off close to the morning line. The colt broke his maiden going 7 furlongs in career start number two after shipping to the Aqueduct main track from Laurel. He returned to Laurel to win the $100K Marylander on December 5th and made his 2016 debut a solid second behind FLEXIBILITY in the Grade III Jerome. He has worked sharply since and wouldn't have to move forward much to be a serious player under jockey Jose Ortiz, who rode him in both NY starts.
ADVENTIST (5-1) – It is tough to get a handle on this son of Any Given Saturday. He was the easiest of winners when he beat MSW rivals by 11 lengths over the Inner Dirt Track on December 19. Although he was well-regarded at the 9-5 favorite in that debut he now stretches out to two turns in start number two and trainer Leah Gyarmati is only a 5% trainer going sprint to route. However, she does win 13% of Graded Stakes tries and is at 23% with last out maiden winners. This is a tough call at the projected price.
SUNNY RIDGE (5-2) – The son of Holy Bull might have been a great talking point had he run in Florida instead of here but his credentials should make him one just the same. The Jason Servis trainee showed his versatility with a trio of sharp efforts to end his juvenile campaign. After finishing second in the seminal Grade I Champagne at Belmont behind GREENPOINTCRUSADER, the likely second favorite in the Holy Bull he ran a good second behind the equally well-regarded Exaggerator in the Grade III Delta Jackpot. Following a 10 week break he has worked steadily and if he runs to his resume will be very tough.
It doesn’t get any better than this. The 2016 Kentucky Derby Prep Season gets underway today with the Grade II Holy Bull from Gulfstream and the Grade III Withers Stakes from Aqueduct. Last year Jim hit BOTH the Holy Bull with UPSTART ($6.20) plus the Exacta and Trifecta with FROSTED and BLUEGRASS SINGER with those 1-2 finishers going on to the Kentucky Derby. Jim also tabbed Longshot FAR FROM OVER ($14.40) to pull the upset in the Withers a week later. This year BOTH DERBY PREPS are on the same day and Gulfstream has 4 MORE GRADED STAKES. Jim is going to SCORE BIG with the Best of these Top Class Races and invites you to join him…ONLY $20 Click Here