Gulfstream Park: The GII, $350,000 Holy Bull at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)
#1 Perfect Saint (20-1): Romans charge was 5-1 in a local optional claimer 21 days ago but didn’t run an inch behind his impressive stablemate Cherry Wine, who passed on this to await the GII Fountain of Youth here next month, so this has the look of a runner filling the entry box and/or trying to get a piece in a short field. If you want a few positives, then it would be that he drew well and has won at two turns, and as a son of Pleasantly Perfect, he’s bred to get better with age and maturity, but that’s about where the bright lights start to dim. Decided longshot faces the toughest test of his career off a dreadful local run, which means he’s in for a long afternoon; tough to back.
#2 Mohaymen (6-5): Undefeated Shadwell colt got some first-place votes as champion 2yo after a 3-for-3 season that saw him win the GII Nashua and GII Remsen at Aqueduct and there’s little doubt that he rates as an imposing odds-on proposition today. Son of Tapit looks intent on making that $2.2 million price tag look like a bargain, as he’s proven plenty versatile in his three wins and figures to shake out as the controlling speed in a race that surprisingly has little of it on paper. If you’re looking to beat him, then you can say McLaughlin obviously has bigger goals in mind later in the year and that this is just a jumping off point to his campaign, but the works whisper “ready,” and keeping an undefeated record intact is more important than most people realize, so when the best horse on paper has a decided race flow edge, too, well, it’s probably “name the score” time; onward and upward.
#3 Fellowship (20-1): Florida-bred is another in a long line of Jacks or Better Farm homebreds that have cashed some mighty big checks against Sunshine-breds over the years, but his last two runs against open foes aren’t going to scare anyone in here. Son of their top stallion Awesome of Course did draw off by open lengths to win a 500k stakes over the track and distance in October, so he does have that going for him, not to mention that you know he’ll relish the distance. Gold has been off to a very slow start at the meet and this colt is just too slow to make a serious dent here, plus the race flow won’t suit his stretch-running style, so unless the pace dynamic changes drastically, he’s a fringe player at best; possible for the bottom of the exotics.
#4 Conquest Big E (7-2): Son of Tapit had a nice 2yo campaign for Casse, winning a pair, including a two-turn race at Keeneland, but he was eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile there in October in his lone foray into deeper waters, so his class is still in question. Tactical sort will lead these if Mohaymen doesn’t take the initiative early, and it’s a great sign that Smith (who has been known to be very aggressive early if he feels the lead is there for the taking) is here to ride, so if nothing else, he seems to get a good race flow for his running style. On paper he’s never run fast enough to beat the top pair, but these 3-year-olds have a way of jumping up and improving open lengths overnight, so with some time off and added maturity, he’s the one you’re looking at if you don’t like to play chalk; price players have their hero.
#5 Greenpointcrusader (8-5): The most likely upsetter did some big things last year and would have been your champion 2yo if he delivered as the favorite in the Juvenile when last seen, but little went right that day and he was a troubled seventh, though he was beaten just 4 1/4 lengths. Schettino regrouped and circled this race as the starting point for this son of Bernardini, and he’s certainly worked well at Palm Meadows, so you have to think he’s ready to fire a big shot. If you’re looking to beat him, then you’re thinking his big win in the GI Champagne at Belmont Park in October came in the slop and was at one-turn, and his only two-turn run was a dud. But don’t be fooled: there’s a ton of talent here, and even if he might be second-best today, this is a name you’re going to hear a lot of later this winter and spring; expect a big run.
#6 Frontier Ranger (15-1): Price player was a distant third but well ahead of ‘Saint in the optional claimer here, and, if nothing else, he certainly didn’t run poorly in what was his dirt debut. Son of U S Ranger isn’t really bred for the main track, but he actually made a nice middle move last time before flattening out late, so it appears that he gets over the local surface good enough. Pellegrini takes an aggressive shot in this GII, but with a big purse and a short field, it’s tough to blame him, as even a bad fourth gets you close to 20k, and who knows? If ‘Big E isn’t up to the task, then there’s no reason that he can’t crack the tri and get an even bigger piece, since it’s not like any of the others besides the two big favorites are any great shakes; could be used in the bottom rung of the exotics.
#4 Conquest Big E
#6 Frontier Ranger