HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will attempt to walk the fine line of winning a Grade 2 stakes while leaving something in the tank for more important goals when he sends out his top Kentucky Derby prospect, Cairo Prince, against 10 rivals in a stellar renewal of the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes on Saturday.
The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull is the first of three major Derby preps at Gulfstream Park this season and anchors an 11-race program that also includes the Grade 2 Forward Gal for 3-year-old fillies.
Cairo Prince ended his 2-year-old campaign on a losing note, although he gained a legion of new supporters in the process, missing by a nose to Honor Code following a stirring stretch duel in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Remsen. Cairo Prince forged to command near the eighth pole despite enduring a wide trip off a very slow pace before ultimately succumbing to the heavy favorite in the final strides of the 1 1/8-mile Remsen.
Cairo Prince won his first two starts in impressive fashion, including a 2 1/2-length score in the Grade 2 Nashua over a field that included Jerome Stakes winner Noble Moon. Cairo Prince has trained forwardly for his 3-year-old debut since arriving at the Palm Meadows training center shortly after the Remsen.
“It’s a very competitive, tough race, but he’s training great, and we should not have any excuses,” McLaughlin said. “We’re ready to go. It’s very hard to balance out the hope of winning this race without draining him too much for future races, especially with a Derby points system that makes you want to be ready the race right before the Derby. Hopefully, we won’t see his best race Saturday, but like I said, he couldn’t be doing better.”
The Holy Bull lineup is stacked from top to bottom and includes, from the rail out, the unbeaten Coup de Grace, Nashua runner-up Financial Mogul, two-time stakes winner Best Plan Yet, the speedy Almost Famous, debut maiden winner Our Caravan, Grade 3 turf winner Mr Speaker, Remsen third-place finisher Wicked Strong, stakes winner Conquest Titan, the Grade 3-placed Big Bazinga, and the Grade 1 stakes-tested Intense Holiday.
Coup de Grace has received much attention following his game maiden win and an even more impressive one-length tally going a mile under allowance conditions here last month. The son of Tapit will stretch out around two turns for the first time and, like Cairo Prince, has trained extremely well for the assignment at Palm Meadows.
“It’s going to be a tough race, and he’s unproven around two turns, so it will be a real test for him,” said Chad Brown, who trains Coup de Grace for Fox Hill Farms.
Financial Mogul ran by far his best race when rallying five wide from far back to outgame Noble Moon for second in the Nashua. Noble Moon flattered that effort by returning to post an easy victory in the Jerome.
Mr Speaker slipped through along the rail for an impressive tally on turf in the Grade 3 Dania Beach. The Holy Bull will be his first start on dirt. His breeding suggests that Mr Speaker should have little problem handling the surface change, being by Pulpit and a grandson of the undefeated Personal Ensign.
“He’s trained well on dirt, and I thought somewhere along the line I was going to give him the opportunity to run on the dirt,” said Shug McGaughey, who also trains leading Derby contender Honor Code.
Wicked Strong was beaten a half-length by Honor Code and Cairo Prince in the Remsen in his first start around two turns. He also has prepped for the Holy Bull at Palm Meadows, as have Almost Famous, who is idle since posting an impressive allowance victory at Churchill Downs on Nov. 9, and Conquest Titan, who did likewise while defeating Gulfstream Park Derby winner General a Rod to close out his juvenile campaign in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 30.
Intense Holiday, fifth in the Grade 1 Champagne and fourth in both the Nashua and Remsen, will have to overcome a very difficult post with the short run to the first turn in races decided at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream.