And So It Begins: Fierceness Makes Seasonal Debut In Holy Bull

Fierceness | Benoit

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Repole Stable's newly crowned Eclipse Award winner and 'TDN Rising Star' Fierceness (City of Light) is set to make a much-anticipated sophomore debut in Saturday's GIII Holy Bull S., and–realistically–the homebred may not require his very best to make a victorious return to action.

Brilliant as he was in breaking his maiden by better than 11 lengths at first asking in Uncle Mo-esque fashion over the summer at Saratoga, he was equally disappointing when beaten a long ways from home in the GI Champagne S. Those who quickly jumped ship were made to feel the sting of that decision when Fierceness returned a whopping $35 when romping by 6 1/4 lengths in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, good for a 105 Beyer.

Of his seven rivals, only New Jersey-bred Sea Streak (Sea Siren) has earned a figure within 10 points of Fierceness's debut 95, so barring something unforeseen, he should take this first of two programmed preps on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

“By bringing him back in the Holy Bull we get good spacing to the Florida Derby and like the five weeks from the Florida Derby to the Kentucky Derby,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, whose previous Holy Bull winners include Algorithms (2012) and Audible (2018). “Knock on wood, everything's gone according to plan so far and hopefully continues to go that way. He's had some super breezes leading up to this, and we're super excited about getting him started.”

Candidates for the minors include D J Stable's undefeated rail-drawn Hades (Awesome Slew), an eight-length allowance winner in Florida-bred company Dec. 31 and trying two turns for the first time; and Otello (Curlin), also unbeaten in two starts and a latest half-length winner of the one-mile Mucho Macho Man S. Jan. 1.

Nysos Figures A Handful In Lewis

Speaking of undefeated colts, Baoma Corp.'s 'TDN Rising Star' Nysos (Nyquist) will take all the beating as he looks to give trainer Bob Baffert an eighth victory in the last 10 runnings of the GIII Robert B. Lewis S. and a record-extending 12th overall.

The May foal traded at odds north of 6-1 for his six-furlong debut at this track Oct. 21 and he made light work of nine others, graduating by 10 1/2 lengths in 1:08.97. The bay was a comparatively generous 20 cents on the dollar in a four-horse renewal of the GIII Bob Hope S. at Del Mar Nov. 19 and those that swallowed the skinny odds walked away happy, as did those that took the 11-10 about the exacta over Stronghold (Ghostzapper). The latter returned to be second to GIII Southwest S. entrant Wynstock (Solomini) in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 16 and adds blinkers here for Phil D'Amato.

Baffert is taking the eyewear off 'TDN Rising Star' Coach Prime (Quality Road), who turned in a remarkable performance to break his maiden first time long at Del Mar Nov. 1 before finishing third in the Futurity last time. Coach Prime cost $1.7 million at Keeneland September in 2022.

Maycocks Bay Heads West For Southwest

As much as Fierceness stands out in the Holy Bull, Saturday's GIII Southwest S.–easily the richest of the day's four Triple Crown preps at $800,000–shapes as a much more wide-open contest.

Eclipse Award-winning owner and breeder Godolphin sent out champion Essential Quality (Tapit) to win the 2021 Southwest S. en route to the Triple Crown, and Sheikh Mohammed's operation has the potential favorite here in the form of Maycocks Bay (Speightstown). A maiden winner at second asking in the Parx slop on Pennsylvania Derby day last September, the chestnut made no impact in his two-turn debut when a distant sixth at the Fair Grounds Nov. 23, but added Lasix last time and took a rained-off route by 10 3/4 lengths Jan. 7.

Plenty will take a contrarian approach to the 3-1 morning-line favorite and many will land on Liberal Arts (Arrogate). The gray, arguably still under the radar and lightly regarded on the morning line at 8-1, has improved from start to start, with a good third in the GIII Iroquois S. Sept. 13 before racing away to a 2 3/4-length success in a sloppy renewal of the GIII Street Sense S. at Churchill Oct. 29.

The Southwest maps at an above-par pace and it would be surprising if that did not eventuate, given the presence of the speedy 'TDN Rising Star' Carbone (Mitole), GII Los Alamitos Futurity winner Wynstock (Solomini), Springboard Mile hero Otto the Conqueror (Street Sense) and the aforementioned Maycocks Bay.

Looking for a longshot alternative? There are worse choices than Common Defense (Karakontie {Jpn}), a debut second to subsequent GIII Lecomte S. third Lat Long (Liam's Map) here Dec. 13 ahead of a visually impressive graduation Jan. 13. His figs are light, but the race flow could really flatter his style.

Schwartz Homebred Rates 'Grande' Chance In Withers

Take Charge Indy rejoined the WinStar stallion barn in 2020 after a successful stint in South Korea, and the foals from that crop performed well in 2023 to the tune of 22 individual winners. Barry K. Schwartz's El Grande O was one of two to succeed at stakes level, rolling home to best his fellow Empire-breds in the Bertram F. Bongard S. and Sleepy Hollow S. during a busy eight-race campaign. The dark bay will look to carry his speed around two turns for the first time in Saturday's GIII Withers S. at Aqueduct, having finished second to the sidelined Drum Roll Please (Hard Spun) in the Jerome S. over the one-turn mile Jan. 6.

Though far less experienced, Lightline (City of Light) is the 8-5 favorite on David Aragona's morning line. A $600,000 KEESEP acquisition by Albaugh Family Racing, the Brad Cox trainee overwhelmed a field of maidens at Horseshoe Indianapolis in September and has since run second to the well-regarded Stretch Ride (Street Sense) at Keeneland in October and to Carbone last time at Oaklawn.

“I'm happy with what we've seen from him to start his career. He ran a good race at Oaklawn last time and maybe got a little far back. It's a short stretch in a mile race,” said Cox. “He kind of didn't get as involved as we thought, but at the end of the day, I thought he got a lot out of it and it sets him up well for the Withers.”

Mission Beach (Curlin) was a debut winner in three starts for Bob Baffert and recently validated odds of 2-5 to take a first-level allowance sprinting at Laurel for Brittany Russell Dec. 22.

Sophomore Stakes Dot Holy Bull Undercard

Three other age-restricted graded stakes and one listed stakes are carded Saturday afternoon in support of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.

The races are distributed evenly on the dirt and the turf and arguably the most appealing of the quartet is the Swale S. With morning-line favorite Bentornato (Valiant Minister) expected to come out in favor of a start in the G3 Saudi Derby in three weeks' time, the money could come for Legalize (Constitution), who ships in from New Orleans for Cherie DeVaux off a victory in the Sugar Bowl S.

The filly counterpart, the GIII Forward Gal S., drew a field of seven, and the most interesting of the entrants is Gary Barber's Witwatersrand (Connect), who broke her maiden at first asking at Woodbine Sept. 1 and promptly topped the Fasig-Tipton October Digital Sale on Gary Barber's bid of $230,000. Second in the Glorious Song S. five days later, she stretched out to win the GIII Mazarine S. Nov. 4. Witwatersrand needs to prove she can handle a dirt track, but her Palm Meadow breezes are positive enough.

Grass runners owned or co-owned by Repole figure prominently in the afternoon's two graded events on that surface. In the GIII Sweetest Chant S., Life's an Audible (Audible) looks to improve on her running-on second in the Jan. 6 Ginger Brew S., with stiff competition in the form of Milliat (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), a slow-starting neck second in the Wait A While S. on U.S. debut Dec. 9. Oisin Murphy carries the Qatar Racing colors. In the GIII Kitten's Joy S., 'TDN Rising Star' Agate Road, campaigned in partnership with St. Elias Stable, tries to make amends for a pace-compromised second to Tocayo (Always Dreaming) in the Jan. 6 Dania Beach S. First World War (War Front) was a first-out winner at Kentucky Downs and returns to the turf after finishing narrowly runner-up in the Mucho Macho Man.

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