©2015 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
The “Road to the Kentucky Derby” takes us to sunny Florida, Saturday, where Upstart, who is ranked fourteenth in Derby point standings, will go the starting gate as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the 30th running of the $400,000 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The Holy Bull will be the first race as a three year old for Upstart, who, while as a two year old running against the likes of Texas Red, Carpe Diem and Daredevil, compiled a 2-1-1 record in four starts, and three of those were in stakes competition.
Last August, Upstart, a New-York bred son of Flatter, showed a lot of promise breaking his maiden by five lengths in a 5½-length sprint race at Saratoga Race Course. A week later at the same track, Upstart won the 6½-furlong Funny Cide Stakes.
In October, Upstart stepped up to graded stakes competition where in finished second to Daredevil in the one-mile Champagne Stakes (G1). And, in November, Upstart closed his racing season with a with a third-place finish to Texas Red and Carpe Diem in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park.
Since his last race, Upstart has been training well at the Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach, Florida, and trainer Rick Violette is optimistic about his chances in the Holy Bull.
“I’d like to have gotten a mile work into him, but he’s ready to give a good account of himself off his last work,” said Violette in a Daily Racing Form news story. “He’s proven he’s more than just a nice New York-bred. He’s moved up to the next level and certainly belongs with the elite 3-year-olds at this time.”
Upstart is a proven competitor who’s never finished worse than third in four starts and regular rider Jose Ortiz, who’s ridden Upstart in all his races, retains the mount in the Holy Bull.
I look for Upstart to be competitive in this race.
Bluegrass Singer (4-1), a fast son of Bluegrass Cat, could prove, perhaps, to be Upstart’s stiffest competition if he runs in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). He’s also entered in the Hutcheson Stakes (G3) on the same card at Gulfstream, but, according to an ESPN news story, it appears that trainer Marcus Vitali will probably run him in the Holy Bull.
"I'm leaning toward the Holy Bull," said Vitali. "I'm trying to get some (Kentucky Derby qualifying) points together, and that's kind of my decision. Javier's got the assignment, and those two got along really good last time. I just think we've got to take our chances, hope for the best and shoot for the sky."
Since finishing sixth in his maiden debut last August, Bluegrass Singer has never finished worse than third, compiling a 3-1-2 record in seven starts.
Last November, Bluegrass Singer finished third by a narrow neck in the Buffalo Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park West. Earlier this month, Bluegrass Singer debuted as three year old with a victory in the one-mile Mucho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The fractional splits in the Mucho Man were blistering fast and the final time of 1:35.83 is what I like to see in a young colt on the trail to the Derby. If Bluegrass Singer can carry his speed to a further route of ground, he will be a tough competitor.
A recent bullet work out could have Bluegrass Singer ready for the Holy Bull and I look for him to run a good race.
Frosted (5-2), ranked twentieth in point stadings, is also making his debut as a three year old in the Holy Bull. As a two year old, he was a tough competitor who never finished worse than second, compiling a 1-3-0 record in four starts, including a second-place finish to Leave the Light On in the Remsen Stakes (G2).
In a Daily Racing Form news story, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said: “He ran huge,” referring to Frosted’s performance the Remsen. “He had the 13 hole, the track was a conveyer belt, and he was unlucky to lose.”
Since Frosted entered training last August his work tab is filled with bullet work outs and a recent bullet work at the Palm Meadows training center on January 9 could have him ready to run a good race in his debut as a three year old.
Whether Frosted can break through to win his first stakes race remains to be seen. However, I look for Frosted to run a good race.
A long shot I like is First Down (12-1) who, along with Frosted, is owned by Godolphin Racing LLC, and he comes into this race with a 1-0-0 record in two starts.
In his maiden debut last September, First Down defeated Frosted by three quarters of a length. In his second start, First down was bumped at the start and carried three wide over a muddy Aqueduct Race Track to finish fourth in the Nashua Stakes (G2).
Despite First Down’s fourth-place finish in the Nashua and his light racing record, trainer Tom Albertrani is optimistic about his chances in the Holy Bull.
"He was very impressive on his first start and I was hoping to see another step forward in the Nashua Stakes, said Albertrani in a Godolphin news release. “He got caught out on a muddy track and met a little bit of traffic, which meant that he probably got more of an education that day.
"He has been improving in his training - he looks focused and is doing everything well. We feel that he is the real deal and an exciting horse."
It remains to be seen whether First Down can step up to win the Holy Bull. But, of all the young horses entered in this race, First Down has the best pedigree and if he lives up to that breeding he should be competitive in this race.
Honorable mention goes to Keen Ice (6-1) and High Noon Rider (15-1) who also would need to step up their game in order to win, however, they have the breeding to be competitive in this race.
Under the points system implemented by Churchill Downs to determine which horses will qualify to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, the winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) will receive 10 points, the second-place finisher will receive 4 points, the third-place finisher will receive 2 points and the fourth-place finisher will receive one point. Here’s a look at the current top twenty Derby qualifiers:
2015 KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Individual Leaders ranking, total points, Trainer, Non-Restricted Stakes Earnings
1. El Kabeir, 21, John Terranova II, $330,792
2. International Star, 21, Mike Maker, $250,979
3. Carpe Diem, 14, Todd Pletcher, $660,000
4. Calculator, 14, Peter Miller, $180,000
5. Texas Red, 12, Keith Desormeaux, $1,136,000
6. Mr. Z, 12, D. Wayne Lukas, $488,326
7. Far Right, 12, Ron Moquett, $205,906
8. Ocho Ocho Ocho, 10, Jim Cassidy, $660,000
9. American Pharoah, 10, Bob Baffert, $360,000
10. Daredevil, 10, Todd Pletcher, $300,000
10. Dortmund, 10, Bob Baffert, $300,000
12. Leave the Light On, 10, Chad Brown, $240,000
13. Lucky Player, 10, Steve Asmussen, $97,231
14. Upstart, 6, Rick Violette Jr., $300,000
15. Bold Conquest, 6, Steve Asmussen, $72,176
16. Conquest Typhoon, 4, Mark Casse, $221,827
17. Bayerd, 4, Steve Asmussen, $245,000
18. Imperia, 4, Kiaran McLaughlin, $163,804
19. Firing Line, 4, Simon Callaghan, $100,000
20. Frosted, 4, Kiaran McLaughlin, $80,000