December 5, 2022

Three points to ponder: 2022 Holy Bull, Withers, Robert B. Lewis

Simplification wins the Mucho Macho Man Stakes (Photo by Lauren King/Coglianese Photos)

Intriguing angles abound in this weekend’s three Kentucky Derby (G1) scoring races.

If Saturday’s $250,000 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park features the most strength in depth, the $250,000 Withers (G3) could deliver a breakout contender. Sunday’s $200,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) serves as a rebound spot for a hotpot, but another can jump onto the Derby leaderboard.  

Here are my three points to ponder:

1. Simplifying the Holy Bull

The Holy Bull’s storylines include the perennial question of whether the Remsen (G2) was all that, incarnate here in hard-fought winner Mo Donegal, and a fascinating clash between placegetters from the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) (third-placer Giant Game) and Juvenile Turf (G1) (runner-up Tiz the Bomb).

There’s ample precedent for Juvenile Turf alumni to make noise on the Triple Crown trail – from Soldat and International Star to War of Will and Mendelssohn in more recent years – and Tiz the Bomb looks just the type to follow suit. Not only did Tiz the Bomb get over the dirt extremely well in his off-the-turf Ellis Park maiden romp, but Ken McPeek mentioned that he could have been considered for the Juvenile on the main track. By that point, however, the son of 2015 Juvenile Turf star Hit It a Bomb had advertised his turf credentials, and it made sense to stick with that through the Breeders’ Cup.

Yet amid all the analysis of the graded veterans, perhaps the simplest solution is offered by a colt making his graded and two-turn debut. Simplification looms as the superior speed who can take control early and never look back. Granted, the Holy Bull is a lot tougher than the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man S., but Simplification has the appeal of a potentially high-class front runner. The Antonio Sano pupil is bred to route as a son of Not This Time and a Candy Ride mare – the same cross as Epicenter, the Gun Runner S. hero and Lecomte (G3) near-misser – and his second dam is a full sister to Hall of Famer Ashado.

2. Vote of confidence in Withers

The Withers can be billed as a rematch of five from the Jerome S., led by the victorious Courvoisier. The Jerome was a tale of trips and aptitude for the slop, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if runner-up Smarten Up fares better with a better break, or if the consistent third Cooke Creek finds more on the step up to 1 1/8 miles. On the other hand, Courvoisier looked dour enough on the cutback to the Jerome’s one-turn mile, and a return to the distance of his maiden score can help his cause too.

Still, that doesn’t quite change the impression of the Jerome being a less informative prep. If so, the Withers could be ripe for plunder by a stakes newcomer, and the most interesting of that demographic is Early Voting. Partly that’s a pedigree play, since Early Voting is by Gun Runner and out of a Tiznow mare who’s a full sister to Irap and a half to Speightstown. But Churchill maiden winner Gilded Age has claims in this department too, as a son of Medaglia d’Oro and the Grade 1-winning Bernardini mare Angela Renee, herself To Honor and Serve’s full sister.

Early Voting’s tactical style around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile makes him of particular interest. Trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables, the sharp debut winner is eligible to work out another favorable trip, with the stamina to handle the added furlong. The form of Early Voting’s maiden also stacks up better than that of Gilded Age, for whatever it’s worth. The second-placer in his Aqueduct maiden, Matt Doyle, had been runner-up to future Remsen near-misser Zandon.

3. London rising for Lewis points

Messier, the class of the Lewis field, threatened to be Bob Baffert’s next beast in a convincing maiden tally. More perfunctory in the Bob Hope (G3), and overturned as the 1-2 favorite in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), Messier is entitled to regain the winning thread back at Santa Anita. The well-bred son of Empire Maker was overeager with the blinkers on last time, takes them off here, and picks up John Velazquez. Messier promises to pad Baffert’s 34% “blinkers off” strike rate as well as his record tally of nine Lewis wins.

But Messier is ineligible for Derby points, due to Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs Inc. So is stablemate Wharton, a good-looking debut winner who might max out at this trip. He’s by Candy Ride but out of Grade 1-winning sprinter Her Smile.

From a points perspective, $700,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic buy Sir London could be the one to follow. The Simon Callaghan pupil looked like a natural router, at last in his element, when spurting away to demolish a one-mile Los Alamitos maiden. While he met no Messiers there, Sir London brings a forward style and massive upside.