Six things to know for the 2018 Holy Bull, Withers, Lewis

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February 2nd, 2018

The Kentucky Derby (G1) points chase picks up again in earnest on Saturday, as aspiring sophomores contest the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, and the Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita.

We’ll begin our “six things to know” by highlighting the common denominator among the three preps – aside from their 10-4-2-1 points structure.

1. The Holy Bull, Withers, and Lewis shape up as competitive, well-matched events on paper. None has a single standout, and the leading contenders in each have a question of some sort to answer. While a breakout performance could help the winner rocket up the Derby lists, the results will demand further sifting. After all, the division leaders – champion Good Magic in Florida and Santa Anita-based Bolt d'Oro – are waiting in the wings to take the stage next month. 

2. The November 25 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) goes on trial in the Holy Bull. The top two from that Churchill Downs scoring race, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, were separated by a scant head after a stretch battle. Their rematch here is an obvious angle of interest, all the more since they’re the top two on the Holy Bull morning line, with Enticed pegged at 3-1 and Tiz Mischief at 4-1. Note that by winning their duel at Churchill, Enticed must now concede six pounds to Tiz Mischief on Saturday.

But there’s a larger point at stake about their merits: the time of the Kentucky Jockey Club (1:44.42) was a full second slower than the fillies posted (1:43.36) in the Golden Rod (G2) over the same 1 1/16-mile trip two races earlier. Needless to say, Enticed and Tiz Mischief have every right to keep improving on the trail, and they can start proving the point on Saturday. Thus the Holy Bull will serve as a referendum on the lingering question of the Kentucky Jockey Club time – was it a harbinger that these aren’t top Derby threats, or a temporary snapshot that shouldn’t be held against them?

3. Two Holy Bull entrants are expected to scratch. Dale Romans entered a quartet led by Tiz Mischief, significantly the choice of jockey Robby Albarado who’s ridden them all. His other two prime candidates, Free Drop Billy and Hollywood Star, are both owned by Albaugh Family Stables, and logically prefer to split up into different points races. Both are coming off unplaced efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), where Hollywood Star ran a sneakily-good sixth but Free Drop Billy flopped in a poor ninth. At latest report, Hollywood Star is the one due to withdraw from the Holy Bull in favor of next Saturday’s Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. Free Drop Billy is accordingly on the rebound mission in the Holy Bull. Bandito, the least fancied of the Romans four after trailing in the Remsen (G2), is also set to run. The Mark Casse-trained Mississippi, on the other hand, will scratch thanks to drawing the far outside post 11. He’s already re-entered for a Sunday allowance.

4. Sire Into Mischief could exert a substantial influence on the Holy Bull. As if Tiz Mischief weren’t enough of a standard-bearer, Into Mischief has another major contender in Audible. Trained by Todd Pletcher for the partnership of WinStar, China Horse Club, and SF Racing, the $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Florida purchase has won his last pair at Aqueduct. If his maiden score was promising over a couple of next-out winners, Audible looked a bit better than that when demolishing an entry-level allowance last out. Granted, that was an off-the-turf affair around the one-turn mile, and now the New York-bred stretches out on the class hike. Still, Audible turned in a 101 Brisnet Late Pace rating, suggesting he’s ready for a sterner test. And like Tiz Mischief, he gets a weight break at 116 pounds. Longer term Audible has more appeal as a miler than a classic type, but for that very reason, the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull could suit him particularly well. That may explain why he flew south rather than stay in New York for the Withers…

5. The Withers distance has increased to 1 1/8 miles – a substantial change, this early in the season, that could advantage horses with experience at the trip. Exhibit A is 8-5 favorite Avery Island, a better-than-appears second to Catholic Boy in the Remsen (G2) over this course and distance. Like Holy Bull favorite Enticed, Avery Island is a Godolphin blueblood from the Kiaran McLaughlin barn. On the lead in his two romps, notably in the Nashua (G3) here two starts back, Avery Island was instead rated off the pace in the Remsen. More forward tactics would likely have helped his cause.

Marconi is the lone entrant with a win over 1 1/8 miles, having broken his maiden here in resounding fashion after a grinding second on debut. The pick of Pletcher’s trio in the Withers at 3-1, compared to the possible overlay Bal Harbour (6-1) and class-challenged Coltandmississippi (12-1), Marconi stands to do much better over time. The $2 million Tapit colt is a half-brother to Mucho Macho Man, who improved from two to three and again as an older horse to land the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Conversely, Firenze Fire may be the most accomplished as the Champagne (G1) and Jerome winner, but the 9-5 shot is a question mark at the distance. Well beaten in his only two-turn try in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he also ranks as the co-highweight with Avery Island at 122 pounds, spotting Marconi six.

6. Solomini’s absence (after spiking a fever) has turned the Lewis into a jump ball, a real opportunity for the under-the-radar types. Richard Mandella’s well-regarded Peace, the lukewarm 3-1 choice on the morning line, adds blinkers to move him along the learning curve. Debuting in a hot maiden last September, he was second to Mourinho (the eventual Smarty Jones hero) and ahead of Instilled Regard (who later placed in the Los Alamitos Futurity [G1] and won the Lecomte [G3]). Peace stepped up to two turns for a Del Mar maiden, only to get outdueled by the more experienced Shivermetimbers. Since then, Shivermetimbers has been drubbed by McKinzie (again) in the Sham (G3), so the literal form isn’t too exciting. But in the interim, Peace broke his maiden at this track and trip in his third try, and the son of prolific freshman sire Violence likely has more up his sleeve.

Interestingly, six-time Lewis winner Bob Baffert pitches in the maiden Regulate, who was runner-up in Peace’s maiden win. A Juddmonte homebred by the red-hot Quality Road, and a descendant of blue hen Toussaud, Regulate most recently bombed behind Pepe Tono as the 6-5 favorite. Baffert’s willingness to wheel right back suggests that he expects a lot better, and that it smacks of a pretty weak renewal. Considering there wasn’t much between him and Peace, Regulate could be the 8-1 value if you can trust him to put it all together.

Well-bred Inscom, an $850,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May purchase, is intriguing on the turf-to-dirt switch for Simon Callaghan. The Distorted Humor colt has been out of the exacta only when encountering trouble, and the otherwise reliable performer has more “stakes cred” than anyone else off his near-miss to Pubilius Syrus in the Eddie Logan. Third-placer Choo Choo has since come back to take the California Derby. All three of the Logan principals had previously felt the power of Analyze It in the Cecil B. DeMille (G3), so if Inscom pulls the mild upset here at 6-1, that budding turf monster can take it as flattery. By the same token, Baffert’s smashing firster Ax Man would be pleased if his victim, Lombo, jumps up in the Lewis.

Check out the 20% Derby Prep Double Bonus, as explained more fully here, and the FREE Brisnet PPs for the Holy Bull, Withers, and Lewis.

Avery Island photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Alysse Jacobs