Connecting the Kentucky Derby Dots: What Lines did the Holy Bull Draw?
Irish War Cry wins the Holy Bull Stakes. (Coglianese Photos)
by Alastair Bull
What lines did the Holy Bull Stakes draw for the Kentucky Derby? Let's connect the Dots.
SETTING: Bettors expected 2016 champion 2-year-old male Classic Empire (3-5) to have a strong return, running for the first time since his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) triumph. If he maintained his superiority over Gunnevera, who was some distance behind him in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1), Classic Empire could be expected to triumph again on exposed form. There was nonetheless interest from bettors in the performance of Gunnevera (9-2), following his last-to-first victory in the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3), and of Irish War Cry (15-1), undefeated in two starts.
FACTORS OF NOTE: Classic Empire had failed once, unseating his rider soon after the start of the Hopeful Stakes (G1). Gunnevera looked like a horse that would need a solid pace. Irish War Cry had won his previous start, the Maryland Stakes, by just a nose from O Dionysus, but the pair were 10 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
PRE-RACE: Classic Empire became worked up before the start and was reluctant to enter the barrier. Irish War Cry raced on Lasix for the first time.
THE RACE: Irish War Cry, a little unexpectedly, got to the front and proceeded to run a slow first quarter of 24:14. Classic Empire sat three wide, and Gunnevera was fifth on the rail. Irish War Cry began to extend his lead three furlongs from the finish, blowing his opponents away, and coasted to the line 3 ¾-lengths clear. Gunnevera had some problem getting clear near the final turn but got to the line well for second, while Classic Empire was in trouble three furlongs out and was hugely disappointing in finishing third, five lengths behind Gunnevera.
BETTING: The big mover on the day was Irish War Cry, who was rated a 15-1 morning line chance but who started at 4-1. Classic Empire came in from 3-5 to 1-2, and Gunnevera moved from 9-2 to 3-1.
CHANGING BETS: Events showed the value of watching horses before the race. Punters might have reconsidered their bets on Classic Empire if they’d seen him fretting beforehand.
REACTION: “You always hope you can win, but you don’t necessarily expect to win like that, especially when you’re running against the 2-year-old champion.” – Graham Motion.
PEDIGREE: Bred in New Jersey, Irish War Cry is an Isabelle de Tomaso homebred. He is by dual Horse of the Year and 2007 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Curlin, the sire of Exaggerator, last year’s Preakness (G1) winner and Derby runner-up. There is little black type on his dam’s side until his third dam, Irish Trip (by Saint Crespin), a listed stakes winner in Italy. Irish War Cry’s pedigree suggests he has a solid chance of staying a mile and a quarter.
KENTUCKY DERBY IMPACT: Irish War Cry recorded a 102 Brisnet Speed Rating in the race. He is now placed seventh on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with the 10 points he earned for the Holy Bull victory. Classic Empire remains atop the leaderboard, with his two new points taking him to 32 total points. Gunnevera moved to fourth, earning four points to take his total to 14.
POST RACE: Classic Empire was found to have an abscess in his right front hoof a few days afterwards. It has since bust open, and he is on the mend.
NEXT START: Irish War Cry is likely to stay in Florida and contest either the Fountain of Youth (G2) March 4, the Florida Derby (G1) April 1, or both. Gunnevera is also being considered for those races. After initially abandoning the Gulfstream Park features, Casse is reconsidering them for Classic Empire following the discovery that his hoof abscess may have been the reason for his poor run.
TRIPLE CROWN TAKEAWAYS: Irish War Cry announced his arrival as a genuine Kentucky Derby contender with this highly impressive victory. His trainer Graham Motion knows how to win the Derby, having done so in 2011 with Animal Kingdom, and the horse’s breeding suggests he should have the requisite stamina. Gunnevera ran well but his closing style makes him vulnerable to pace and traffic problems, and he may be best served if there is speed in the race. Classic Empire was well below his best 2-year-old form, and remaining calm before the race is clearly important to his Derby prospects. Crowd size may not be his issue – he was exemplary on Breeders’ Cup day. However, punters should watch his behavior prior to the start before deciding if he is a good wagering proposition.