March 22, 2019

Kentucky Derby Report – Favorite falters in Holy Bull

Harvey Wallbanger captures the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. on February 2, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

All hope isn’t lost but Maximus Mischief’s Kentucky Derby prospects took a severe hit in Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2). The odds-on favorite looked poised to strike but came up empty after turning for home, weakening to third in the short stretch at Gulfstream Park.

Maximus Mischief overwhelmed rivals last year, winning all three starts convincingly on the front end including the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct, and entered 2019 as a top-ranked Kentucky Derby contender on the East Coast. But the competition appears to have caught up with the well-built colt and he wasn’t the only runner who failed to meet expectations.

Mihos, who was exiting a commendable win in the January 5 Mucho Macho Man at a one-turn mile, never fired in his two-turn debut, checking in an even fifth as the 2-1 second choice. The $1 Holy Bull exacta yielded $1,101.70 as 29-1 Harvey Wallbanger edged 128-1 bomber Everfast by a length.

Three Kentucky Derby qualifiers were offered last weekend and highlights included Tax, a reformed claimer who continued his ascension in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct; and Mucho Gusto’s romp in the slop in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita.

The $250,000 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on February 9 will be the next stop in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Holy Bull

Harvey Wallbanger opened his racing career with three consecutive seconds before narrowly graduating in his juvenile finale at Churchill Downs in mid-November. The confirmed closer took plenty of action last fall (odds-on favorite twice) but didn’t inspire much optimism for his three-year-old season by earning declining BRIS Speed ratings in every start (89-87-86-81).

Overlooked as the seventh choice in a nine-horse Holy Bull, Harvey Wallbanger was deftly guided to the inside by Brian Hernandez Jr. and saved all the ground before launching his move nearing the completion of the far turn. He rallied boldly up the rail and surged past pacesetter Epic Dreamer and Maximus Mischief in deep stretch to win by a length.

Trained by Kenny McPeek for Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman and Paul Braveman, Harvey Wallbanger registered his first triple-digit BRIS Late Pace rating (100) and earned a career-best 95 Speed. But considering that Maximus Mischief had netted 104 and 106 Speed numbers in his two previous outings, the winner’s figure was disappointing.

Hernandez also rides Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Signalman for McPeek and that runner is scheduled to return in the March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. McPeek will wait to make a final decision on Harvey Wallbanger’s next start but mentioned the possibility of training up to the Florida Derby (G1) on March 30. A Kentucky-bred son of Congrats, Harvey Wallbanger hails from a Distorted Humor mare and is bred for stamina on his dam side.

A case can be made for Harvey Wallbanger’s potential but Everfast’s runner-up finish cast serious doubt upon the rest of the field. Exposed in a trio of juvenile stakes appearances, the Dale Romans-trained colt was no factor when opening the year with a well-beaten fourth at 39-1 odds in an entry-level allowance, winding up more than a dozen lengths behind Bourbon War.

After stalking up close to the pace, Everfast came under a heavy ride from Chris Landeros while losing ground on the far turn of the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull. But Epic Dreamer and Maximus Mischief had nothing left while straightening for home and Epic Dreamer suddenly rallied into the frame again, shifting course to the outside to get past the struggling front-runners late.

Withers

Tax quickly recovered after stumbling at the break and led the way into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile Withers before being eased back by Junior Alvarado, settling comfortably along the inside as Not That Brady advanced to show the way on a clear lead.  The Danny Gargan trainee edged closer approaching the stretch and after waiting momentarily, Tax got through along the inside and forged his way to a short lead by midstretch.

He determinedly held in a three-horse battle to the wire, prevailing by a head over Not That Brady, with Our Braintrust another neck back in third on the far outside.

By Arch, Tax was bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider and his dam, the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll, is out of the Grade 2-winning Yell. That makes Toll a half-sister to Cheery, dam of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Elate, and this distinguished female family includes Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero; Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute; and notable stakes winners Ironicus, Hero’s Honor, Eastern Echo and Congrats.

Tax was gelded and debuted in a $30,000 maiden claiming race at Churchill Downs in late September, showing good speed from the start before grudgingly giving way to be a half-length second. Making his two-turn debut three weeks later for a $50,000 tag at Keeneland, he was claimed from a two-length victory.

The dark bay jumped straight to stakes company for new owners R A Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable and finished a solid third in the Remsen at Aqueduct in early December. Tax has registered commendable 103 and 102 BRIS Speed ratings in the last two starts but I’m not sure about the competition he’s faced.

Not That Brady was exiting a wire-to-wire win over New York-bred rivals in the December 31 Damon Runyan. The Withers marked his first attempt at two turns and he battled back after coughing up the lead, but the Big Brown gelding still has plenty to prove for Rudy Rodriguez.

Stakes-placed against Maryland-bred foes last year, Our Braintrust was sold privately after opening his sophomore season with a second to Mind Control in the one-mile Jerome at Aqueduct and new trainer Mark Casse suggested turf could be in the Freud colt’s future. Our Braintrust was bumped by Not That Brady approaching the eighth pole but still had every chance to get past and appeared to drift in after the initial incident. The stewards investigated but let the order stand.

Robert B. Lewis

Mucho Gusto took over when the pacesetter gave way entering the stretch and splashed his way to the wire unopposed, scoring by 4 3/4 lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis. Runner-up Gunmetal Gray was never a factor closing belatedly for second and the remaining two finishers proved overmatched. The race was marred by the breakdown of Kid Cantina and Nolo Contesto scratched due to the sloppy conditions.

Winner of the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3) and a non-threatening second to stablemate Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), Mucho Gusto left a fine impression winning for fun in his three-year-old opener and improved his stock in a deep Bob Baffert barn. The five-time Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner has now won the Lewis a record six times, with 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Dortmund and 2015 third-placer Dortmund among his previous winners.

But the Lewis doesn’t answer any questions surrounding the winner’s Kentucky Derby chances. Mucho Gusto had everything his own way over a wet track he clearly relished and his 95 BRIS Speed rating came back light; he’ll be tested for class and distance in future engagements. A $625,000 purchase for Michael Petersen at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May two-year-old sale, Mucho Gusto is from the first crop of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and hails from a Giant’s Causeway mare.

Other three-year-olds of interest

Here are some performers from the maiden and allowance ranks last week who appear headed to Kentucky Derby qualifiers:

Santa Anita

Los Alamitos Futurity third-placer Extra Hope fit in the five-horse Lewis but Jay Em Ess Stable and Richard Mandella opted to bring him back in an entry-level allowance on January 31. The Shanghai Bobby colt looked good off the winter break posting a convincing win, seizing control on the far turn after displaying improved tactical speed. He rolled home to a 3 ¼-length decision over the sloppy track and recorded a career-best 94 BRIS Speed rating in the two-turn one-mile race. Kingly, a well-bred Tapit colt making his second start as the 8-5 favorite for Baffert, took a run at the leader leaving the backstretch but wound up losing ground on the far turn. He appeared in serious trouble wheeling into the stretch but gamely out-finished a trio of rivals to be a clear second. A solid effort in defeat.

After finishing second in three straight, Omaha Beach impressively shred the bridesmaid label recording a nine-length triumph in a seven-furlong maiden special weight on the Lewis undercard. War Front colt made his first three starts on turf before trying the main track on January 4, missing by a half-length to well-regarded Nolo Contesto. Omaha Beach left no margin for error in this spot, accelerating clear early on the far turn and reaching mid-stretch with a 10-length advantage. Flavien Prat geared his mount down late and Omaha Beach netted a 96 BRIS Speed under the sloppy conditions. Owned by Fox Hill Farms, the dark bay colt is trained by Hall of Famer Mandella, who enjoyed a fine week with a pair of runners now headed to Kentucky Derby qualifiers. Omaha Beach counts champion two-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi as a half-sister and Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady, dam of champion three-year-old male Will Take Charge and Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy, as his second maternal dam.

Gulfstream Park

Soldado established himself as a promising prospect for Todd Pletcher, rallying to win his debut going away by a 2 3/4-length margin on the Holy Bull undercard. Not bad for a Virginia-bred colt who cost only $8,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Maryland May two-year-old sale last year. From the first crop of Verrazano, Soldado opened his career at six furlongs but is bred to relish extended distances on the bottom half of his pedigree; this is the extended female family of Broad Brush. After failing to break alertly, the bay sophomore was under a drive from Luis Saez and didn’t begin to make headway until the latter part of the far turn, offering a fine turn of foot to reel in Honest Mischief, who sat just off the dueling leaders before moving confidently to take the lead approaching the top of the stretch. Jose Ortiz was sitting chilly aboard the 6-5 favorite but his demeanor changed as Soldado advanced to even terms in upper stretch. The duo dueled briefly before Soldado gained the advantage, drawing away through the final sixteenth of a mile, and the winner received a 95 BRIS Speed and a 97 Late Pace figure. He’s campaigned by A 1 A Racing. The runner-up, who hails from the Grade 1-winning Seattle Slew mare Honest Lady (who is out of Toussaud), was making his first start for Chad Brown and Honest Mischief finished 7 ¼ lengths clear of second. The Into Mischief colt is poised to graduate next out and I’m bullish on the top two.

Aqueduct

Motagally wasn’t a serious factor opening his career with setbacks to Vekoma and Tacticus but took a step forward finishing second the third time out in mid-December. The well-built son of Union Rags put it all together in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight on the Withers undercard and should jump straight to stakes company next time for Shadwell Stable and Chad Brown. There’s still room for improvement at the break but Motagally got away a little better here and showed surprising early speed as he rushed forward to closely track the pace in second beneath Manny Franco. The $650,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase grinded his way to the front through far turn and upper stretch, eventually disposing of a stubborn pacesetter in Erlich. Motagally still appears to be learning, racing a bit greenly as he drew off by 6 ½ lengths in the latter stages, and his BRIS Speed ratings rose significantly to a 95. The pedigree features a solid mix of speed and stamina.

Fair Grounds

Aquadini stretched out to two turns with a decisive maiden special weight win at Fair Grounds on February 2, utilizing stalk-and-pounce tactics to post a 5 ¾-length decision. The pace was glacial (:49.63 and 1:15.19 fractions) and contributed to an 84 BRIS Speed rating, but Aquadini earned a respectable 99 Late Pace number making his second dirt start and the Bernardini colt may have some upside for owners Andrew Farm and On Our Own Stable and trainer Dallas Stewart.

Preview

Saturday’s Sam F. Davis drew a field of 10 and Knicks Go has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite. A 70-1 upset winner of the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, the Ben Colebrook-trained Paynter colt followed with a runner-up finish at 40-1 odds in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs. The front-running colt will look to rebound from an 11th as the favorite in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in late November.

Going for Gold, who was scratched from the Holy Bull, brings speed to the 1 1/16-mile race and Five Star General promises to be pushing following a wire-to-wire win in the off-the-turf Central Park at Aqueduct. Restricted stakes victor Well Defined may also add to the pace.

I’m intrigued by Cave Run, who will make his second stakes attempt after coming up short as the favorite behind runaway victor Win Win Win in the January 19 Pasco at Tampa. A Godolphin homebred son of Street Sense, the Eoin Harty-trained colt figures to appreciate the added ground with his pedigree. Cave Run rallied to win going away by open lengths in his career unveiling at Tampa and should receive a favorable set-up Saturday.

KDFW Pool 2

Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) begins Friday and closes Sunday at 6 p.m. (EST). The mutuel field (#24) of “All Other 3-Year-Olds” has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia and Baffert-trained duo of Game Winner and Improbable head individual interests at 6-1 and 8-1, respectively.

Kentucky Derby Top 10

1. GAME WINNER: Champion 2yo readying for 3/9 San Felipe
2. IMPROBABLE: Unbeaten Grade 1 winner could head to Oaklawn for 3/16 Rebel
3. WAR OF WILL: Lecomte hero expected to top 2/16 Risen Star
4. HIDDEN SCROLL: Fountain of Youth an option for impressive debut scorer
5. VEKOMA: Unbeaten juvenile stakes winner will return in Fountain of Youth
6. GLOBAL CAMPAIGN: Impressive debut scorer listed at 50-1 in Pool 2 of KDFW
7. COUNTRY HOUSE: Overcame trouble to post sharp maiden tally
8. OWENDALE: Risen Star next for smart allowance winner
9. WIN WIN WIN: Track record-setter scheduled to try two turns in 3/9 Tampa Bay Derby
10. GUNMETAL GRAY: One-run closer didn’t receive proper set-up in Lewis runner-up