Gulfstream Park: The Grade II, $400,000 Holy Bull at 1 1/16 miles
#1 Coup De Grace: Undefeated Brown runner has made waves in his two starts and gets the proverbial acid test today in this deep GII as he tries to join the Triple Crown trail. Tactical son of Tapit drew perfectly for his first two-turn assignment, and he gets some bonus points for owning a local win as well, but from there things get a bit muddled as there’s plenty of pace and he’ll need to work out a trip. There’s little doubt there’s talent here, but he figures to be overbet and the race flow might play against him as well, so let’s take a wait and see approach in his graded stakes debut; willing to make him prove it on top.
#2 Financial Mogul: Son of Street Boss returns for his 3yo debut after flashing promise in a juvenile campaign that ended with a fine second to today’s favorite Cairo Prince in Aqueduct’s GII Nashua in November. Violette charge will try two turns for the first time but dad was a sprinter, so you have to wonder if he’ll appreciate this trip. It’s also worth noting he didn’t threaten ‘Prince in the Nashua and had that “someone had to be second” feel to him, so with that dude and a bunch of other toughies lining up, he seems a bit up against it in his first start of the year; siding against.
#3 Best Plan Yet: Deserved longshot was beaten a furlong and a half in the local Gulfstream Park Derby and meets a much tough crew today, so there’s little doubt he’s up against it. On the plus side, he does get back to two turns today and was 2-for-2 at that trip at Calder last year, and trainer Gold knows what to do with a nice horse, but that’s about all the positives for a colt who needs softer to threaten; not seeing it.
#4 Almost Famous: Highly touted 2yo added blinkers and ran away from an overmatched field of optional claimers to end his juvenile campaign in November at Churchill Downs and warrants plenty of respect in his first start of the year for Byrne. Son of Unbridled’s Song is certainly bred to be a good one and answered the two-turn question when last seen, which is a nice feather in his cap, as some of these haven’t proven they can as of yet. The worry is his running style, as he wired at CD and wants to mix it up early, and we’ve already mentioned there’s plenty of pace signed on here. The gut says this is a tough ask off the layoff, especially with the race flow, but there’s no doubt this is a name to remember; won’t fault anyone looking this way.
#5 Our Caravan: Tricky read blasted local maidens in his career debut here in December going two turns, and that alone says you might want to give him another look before dismissing. Of course, he’s being thrown into the deep of the pool here and it’s not like he ran fast or beat much that day, so he’s swimming without a life preserver to be sure. Young trainer Dilger (a former Pletcher assistant) has proven capable in his brief career, and this colt’s sire Daaher was a nice one for Shadwell a few years back, so you have to be at least intrigued by this promising runner. The pace also figures to be right for this guy’s late rally, but a win might simply be too much, too soon; limiting his use to underneath, if at all.
#6 Mr Speaker: The wildcard won the local GIII Dania Beach on the grass for Shug but is by Pulpit out of an Unbridled mare, so he’s bred in the purple for this surface switch. It’s tough to fault his connections, but isn’t it a bit odd that after four turf starts to kick off his career he’s now finally trying the real stuff? Versatile Phipps homebred has won from on and off the pace, so that’s a plus, too, but he’s going to be overbet based on his connections and is spotting a lot of experience to several talented runners who call the main track their home, so with some mixed signals, let’s keep looking; tread lightly if landing here.
#7 Cairo Prince: The most accomplished member of the field figures to be a lot lower than his 3-1 ML price based on his Nashua win and game second when beaten a nose to Future Book hotshot Honor Code when last seen in Aqueduct’s GII Remsen in November. That was one weird 9F race, as the splits were more reminiscent of a 12F turf race, and so it was basically a sprint late, but he did quicken nicely and lost nothing in defeat. McLaughlin charge has done little wrong in three career starts and dad Pioneerof The Nile was second in the Derby a few years back, so you know the trip isn’t a worry. If there is one, though, it’s his penchant for idling on the lead, as he did in his maiden win and seemingly did in the Remsen, when he stormed to the front, looked a certain winner, then was outgamed late by Honor Code. Of course, no one in here is likely going to get that close to Honor Code, so this guy is going to take some beating, but with much bigger and better goals down the road, this seems like the time to beat him; second best today.
#8 Wicked Strong: Up and comer was in the Remsen photo when he finished third, beaten just a half-length by ‘Prince, and will look to validate that run today. Son of Hard Spun might have been a little flattered by the pedestrian early pace that day, as he was able to lay close early and be around late, so there are still some questions to be answered in his first start as a 3yo. If you’re a fan, you should get some decent value on this Jerkens trainee, as there are others who are just as accomplished on paper, but the gut just says he’s not this good; taking a wait and see approach.
#9 Conquest Titan: Casse charge closed stoutly to win an optional claimer at CD to close out his 2yo campaign when last seen in November and will try to make amends for finishing last in his lone two-turn start on dirt in the BC Juvenile. Son of Birdstone is one of many in here who needs to prove he belongs in the graded stakes ranks, but at least he’s shown he can pass horses in the lane, which could come in handy in this speedy affair. It’s also nice to see Bridgmohan come in from FG to ride, as it’s likely he would have have a full slate of live mounts in the Big Easy, so with a nice price ensured, there are plenty of reasons to like this colt; hardly impossible.
#10 Big Bazinga: Lightly raced runner didn’t make an impact when seventh in his dirt debut in the GIII Delta Jackpot in December and faces a mighty tall task on his 3yo unveiling. Son of Bluegrass Cat was a sharp second over the Polytrack in Woodbine’s GIII Grey in October, so there appears to be some talent here, and it’s nice to see Vassilieva try the big boys again, but geesh, this is one salty spot to jump back into the fray; easy toss.
#11 Intense Holiday: Pletcher runner was a sneaky good fourth in the Remsen when he closed nicely late after a wide trip in a race where no one made up any ground into the aforementioned plowhorse splits, so he gets some extra bonus points for that. Son of Harlan’s Holiday is obviously in expert hands and has the right running style to be a factor in here, and unlike most of his stablemates, he’ll offer a good price. On the face of it he hasn’t been good enough yet, as he’s finished behind ‘Prince twice (he was also fourth in the Nashua), but there’s little doubt he took a big step forward in the Remsen, which was his two-turn debut, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. Newly minted 3yo has been working forwardly at Palm Meadows for his sophomore debut, will like the splits, and catches the favorite at the right time, so let’s tab him as the upset special for an already loaded barn; mows them down late.
#11 Intense Holiday
#7 Cairo Prince
#1 Coup De Grace