Is Maximus Mischief Vulnerable in the Holy Bull Stakes?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 31st, 2019

When ten horses line up to face the starter in Saturday’s $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, all eyes will be on the heavy favorite #8 Maximus Mischief.

On paper, this 8.5-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race should be a walk in the park for Maximus Mischief. The son of Into Mischief compiled a perfect 3-for-3 record in 2018, including an easy victory in the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II), in which he pressed a slow pace and flew home fast to win by 2 ¼ lengths. On the speed figure scale, he towers over this field—last year, he ran BRIS speed figures of 94, 104, and 106 and Beyers of 94, 98, and 97.

And yet, I wonder if Maximus Mischief might be vulnerable in the Holy Bull. Two starts back, he got very rank at the start of a seven-furlong allowance race and fought his rider before settling down, and he’s continued to be a rather speed-crazy sort in the mornings. Just check out his five-furlong breeze on January 19, in which he blazed five furlongs in :58.02.

If Maximus Mischief settles like he did in the Remsen, it’s going to be tough to beat him, but in the Holy Bull he’s drawn post eight with a short run to the first turn, and he’s surrounded by front-running rivals who could force him into a faster early pace than expected. Throw in the fact that Maximus Mischief will carry a hefty 122 pounds, and I’m not convinced that he’s unbeatable at a short price.

Instead, I’ll take a shot against him with #2 Federal Case. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Holy Bull with Audible, Federal Case went 2-for-2 in 2018, opening his career with a front-running maiden win at Keeneland before shipping to Gulfstream Park and employing pace-pressing tactics to win a one-mile allowance race by a neck. Notably, the runner-up in that race finished 13 lengths clear of the third-place finishers, and on the speed figure scales it came back as a solid effort (94 BRIS and 88 Beyer).

In the Holy Bull, Federal Case should be able to sit a perfect trip just behind the leaders while saving ground under jockey Javier Castellano, who is winning at a 22% rate at Gulfstream Park. Even better, this well-bred son of Gemologist will carry just 116 pounds, six less than Maximus Mischief. In the favorite fails to settle and exhausts himself out on the front end, Federal Case should be poised to capitalize.

Since Federal Case figures to be no greater than the third choice in the wagering, I’ll bet him to win and key him in the exotics while emphasizing Maximus Mischief and #6 Mihos underneath:

$10 to win on #2 Federal Case $7 exacta: 2,8 with 2,8 ($14) $1 trifecta: 2 with 6,8 with 1,3,6,8 ($6)

Good luck!