Holy Bull Was As Good As It Gets

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D.S. Williamson

January 27th, 2016

This Saturday, on Jan. 30, dreams of roses invade the thoughts of horse racing trainers, owners, and jockeys alike in earnest. What most consider the first true Kentucky Derby prep of the year takes place when 3 year olds hit the Gulfstream Park dirt track for the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes.

The first Holy Bull Stakes was run in 1990. It was called the Preview Stakes at the time. The name didn't change until 1996. The name was changed in honor of hall of fame horse Holy Bull. How good was Holy Bull? Holy Bull was so good that he won 1994 honors for U.S. 3 Year Old Champion Colt as well as U.S. Champion Horse of the Year even though he didn't win a single Triple Crown race or the Breeders Cup Classic. An interesting note about Holy Bull is that the winner of the 1994 Kentucky Derby, Go for Gin, holds the record for fastest winning time for the Holy Bull Stakes. Go for Gin won the 1994 Holy Bull, when it was called the Preview Stakes, in 1:41.62.

See below for what I think are Holy Bull's Top 5 wins.

1. 1994 Travers Stakes - Holy Bull ran the first quarter, along with Comanche Trail, in 22 second and change. At that point, it looked like Bull was done. Concern, who would go on to win the 1994 Breeders Cup Classic, and Tabasco Cat, who won the 1994 Preakness and Belmont, were also in the field. After Holy Bull ran a half in 46.1, there was some doubt as to whether or not he could hold off the eventual BC Classic winner. But in one of the best stretch drives of the 1990's, Mike Smith did just that aboard Holy Bull as Jerry Bailey tried desperately to get Concern past the Bull in the stretch. What a race!

2. 1994 Woodward Stakes - The 1994 Woodward Stakes was loaded. Colonial Affair, Bertrando and the Bobby Frankel trained Tinner's Way all showed up to take on the 3 year old sensation in the Woodward that year. Devil His Due, Brunswickand Go for Gin also all showed up in the Woodward Stakes. The Bull toyed with his elders. He won the race easily as a huge 4/5 favorite. It was Holy Bull's last race in 1994 and the one that sealed the deal for his Horse of the Year trophy.

3. 1993 Belmont Futurity - This was the race where Holy Bull burst onto the scene. In his 2 year old season, the Bull went into the 1993 Belmont Futurity undefeated. But, he faced a 2 to 5 shot in Dehere, the most highly regarded 2 year old runner in the nation. Holy Bull took the lead and never looked back. Dehere, under Chris McCarron, finally got on track, but it was too late. Holy Bull came around at the perfect time for jockey Mike Smith. Smith eventually won the award for top jockey in 1993 a feat that Smith would accomplish again, mainly due to Holy Bull, in 1994. Earlier in 1993, Smith had won the Preakness Stakes aboard Prairie Bayou.

4. 1994 Metropolitan Handicap - Holy Bull went off as the even money favorite in the 1994 Metropolitan Handicap. It was another stunning performance by the Great Above sired freak. The Bull took the lead, ran a half mile in :45 flat and held off 16 to 1 long shot Cherokee Run for the win. Once again, Holy Bull dominated Colonial Affair, Tinner's Way and Devil His Due.

5. 1994 Florida Derby - The Bull's smashing win in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in 1994 solidified him as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. He ran the first quarter in 22.52. He ran the half in 46.16. He ran three-quarters in 1:10.16. Holy Bull's 5.75 length win was one of the most impressive in Florida Derby history.

Holy Bull was the epitome of the freak horse. The horse had no business being as good as he was. Looking at Holy Bull's bloodlines, it's amazing that he ever raced in allowance races, much less that he obliterated his competition in graded stakes races. Surprisingly, the now pensioned Holy Bull turned into a decent sire. Giacomo, also ridden by Mike Smith, won the Kentucky Derby in 2005. Holy Bull sired Macho Uno who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile in 2000 and sired 2013 Breeders Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. Sometimes a freak on the track can pass on his freakish qualities in the breeding shed!

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