Saturday's graded stakes races stretch out from coast to coast and feature significant GI Kentucky Derby implications, but not entirely for the reasons we've come to expect. In South Florida, it is business as usual for the Derby preps while on the West Coast all things Kentucky Derby took an unprecedented turn.
On the heels of a very successful GI Pegasus World Cup weekend, Gulfstream Park offers a tremendous card with five graded races, including the 34th running of the GIII Holy Bull S. named for the Hall of Famer and 1994 Horse of the Year, who won that year's GI Florida Derby. Forty Kentucky Derby points are on the line with the winner collecting the lion's share.
Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief) enters off a 5 3/4-length allowance romp at a mile over this surface Jan. 8. The $450,000 KEESEP yearling purchase is out of a half to GSW Suddenbreakingnews (Mineshaft) and hails from the female family of MGIW Composure (Touch Gold).
“I think he's one of the best 3-year-olds in the country, and he's training like one,” trainer Dale Romans said. “There are a lot of good horses out there, but we're in a good spot right now.”
Legacy Isle (Shackleford) would be undefeated and the only stakes winner so far of the bunch after wiring the Mucho Macho Man S. on New Year's Day, but was disqualified for bothering a rival in the lane and was placed second.
Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott entered two in the Holy Bull, Rocket Can (Into Mischief) and Shadow Dragon (Army Mule).
The GIII Claiborne Swale S. doesn't offer any Derby points and isn't considered a Derby prep, but it is named after the 1984 Derby winner and Hall of Famer who died suddenly eight days after the GI Belmont S.
The streaking Super Chow (Lord Nelson) drew the outside in the six-runner test, which will be contested at seven furlongs. The winner of five of his six career races is coming off three straight listed stakes wins and makes a jump back into graded company. He broke his maiden in his debut July 2 at Gulfstream and was third in the GII Saratoga Special S. before shipping back to Florida to collect his last three wins.
“He's in his best shape ever,” trainer Jorge Delgado said. “He's been maturing race to race. He's been showing a lot of class. From race to race, he's a more professional horse. He's becoming a man.”
Not to be overshadowed by the boys, 10 fillies are set to race seven-eighths on the main track in the GIII Forward Gal S.
Atomically (Girvin) is the likely favorite in her first start since an even seventh-place finish in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Nov. 4. It was her first start for trainer Todd Pletcher after being sold privately to a group headed by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners after winning the Florida Sire My Dear Girl S. over the Gulfstream Park main track Oct. 1.
Ginger Brew S. winner Cairo Consort (Cairo Prince) is the 2-1 morning-line favorite against eight other sophomore turf fillies in the 1 1/16-mile GIII Sweetest Chant S. The Todd Pletcher-trained filly won Woodbine's Catch A Glimpse S., was second in the GI Natalma S. and third in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. This race will be her first start beyond a mile.
Only four will line up in the GIII Robert B. Lewis S., a 1 1/16-mile test offering 41 Road to the Derby points to the top-four finishers on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale. This is where the race's Kentucky Derby implications take a turn. Each of the four runners are trained by a single trainer and that trainer–currently–is forbidden from participating in racing at Churchill Downs.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has saddled a record 10 winners of the Robert B. Lewis–including the last four in a row–sat in a Louisville courtroom for two days this week. His team of attorneys is seeking an injunction against his two-year ban from competing at Churchill Downs following Medina Spirit's post-race positive for the prohibited steroid betamethasone after crossing the wire first in the 2021 Derby. Medina Spirit also won the 2021 Lewis.
Arabian Lion (Justify) will lead his stablemates. The $600,000 OBSAPR 2-year-old was a dismal fifth in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 17 at odds of 2-5 but has been working lights out for his return here.
Newgate (Into Mischief) hasn't reached the winner's circle since breaking his maiden at Del Mar but was a short second in the GIII Sham S. a month ago. The $850,000 KEESEP yearling was also second to last week's GIII San Vicente S. winner and stablemate Havnameltdown (Uncaptured) in the GIII Bob Hope S. at Del Mar Nov. 20. Maiden winner Hard To Figure (Hard Spun) and maiden Worcester (Empire Maker) round out the Baffert quartet.