A closer look at the next round of Kentucky Derby preps

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

January 23rd, 2018

A 19-day gap between Kentucky Derby (G1) preps will end February 3 when three will be held across the country.

The most lucrative and potentially most significant of the trio is the $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Won by eventual Derby winner Barbaro in 2006, the race in recent years has served as sort of a virtual graveyard for returning two-year-old champions.

Hansen (2012) and Shanghai Bobby (2013) both finished second in the Holy Bull as heavy favorites, with only Hansen making it to Derby (he finished ninth). A year ago, signs of the foot trouble that would plague Classic Empire throughout the season initially surfaced in the Holy Bull, in which he finished a distant third as an overwhelming 1-2 favorite. He later finished sixth at Churchill Downs after a rough trip.

Neither of the main contenders for 2017 champion juvenile honors are being pointed to the Holy Bull, so there will presumably be a one-year reprieve from another huge upset. It could still be an interesting race, especially if Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Enticed and turf specialist Untamed Domain, a son of 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom, are among the starters.

The $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita has had some significant winners in the past decade including I’ll Have Another (2012), who went on to capture the Derby and Preakness (G1) before injury derailed his Triple Crown bid. Dortmund and Firing Line, one-two in 2015, both placed behind American Pharoah in the Derby.

The $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, over 1 1/8 miles, comes up quickly after the $150,000 Jerome, which was postponed from January 1 to January 13. Formerly a springtime fixture contested at one mile, the race has had only a minor impact since it was repositioned as a wintertime Derby prep.

Alpha won the Withers in 2012, but was up the track in the Derby prior to winning the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1). In 2013, Revolutionary eked out a victory in it and the Louisiana Derby (G2) prior to a third-place effort in the Run for the Roses.