By Richard Rosenblatt
A double dose of Kentucky Derby preps on Saturday produced a few new 3-year-olds to keep an eye on, and enhanced the reputation of a few familiar horses – and their trainers.
In the $200,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3), Greatest Honour swept past the leaders in the stretch and chalked up a 5 3/4-length victory over 26-1 longshot Tarantino at Gulfstream Park.
Later in the day at Santa Anita, six-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert has himself another Derby prospect in Medina Spirit, who won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) by a neck over Roman Centurian.
Greatest Honour, ridden by Jose Ortiz, kicked off his 3-year-old campaign exactly the way Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey had hoped by overpowering the field in the stretch cruising past the finish line.
A bay son of Tapit, Greatest Honour entered the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull with a maiden victory in his career debut and an overall record of 4-1-1-2.
Greatest Honour returned $7.60 for a $2 win bet. Even-money favorite Prime Factor, who won his only other start by 8 ¾ lengths at Gulfstream, was third in the field of nine.
“He broke well today,’’ Ortiz said. “I was able to have a clean run to the first turn. He sat pretty nicely. He wanted to back up a little and I tap him on the shoulder and he picked me up and he took me on a great ride. I was really, really happy going to the five-eighths [pole].
“I was following Prime Factor and I was just on the inside of him. Luckily, I didn’t have to fight for any position. I was just able to take it. Honestly, when I put myself four wide in the clear, I showed him the whip one time and from that point I knew I was going to have a really, really good shot to win. When we got to the quarter pole, I knew I had it.”
Winning time for the race was 1:43.19 over a fast track.
“I thought we were in good position when we turned down the backside. When he was in that kind of position, I knew they were going to have a hard time with him, because he’s going to finish better than he starts,’’ McGaughey said. “Jose said, ‘At the half-mile pole, I asked him a tad, he was there.’’’
On to the Fountain of Youth
McGaughey won the Derby in 2013 with Orb by taking the Florida route to Churchill Downs, and he’s likely to do the same with Greatest Honour. Next up on Gulfstream’s Derby prep calendar is the Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 27.
“[The Fountain of Youth] is what I’ve had on my mind. I’m not going to leave Florida unless I’m forced to,’’ McGaughey said. “I won’t have any trouble having him ready for the Florida Derby if I don’t want to run him there.”
Greatest Honour earned 10 Derby qualifying points to move onto the leaderboard; four points went to Tarantino, two to Prime Factor and one to fourth-place finisher Papetu.
Jirafales was fifth, followed by Sittin on Go, Awesome Gerry, Willy Boi, and Amount.
Median Spirit gives Baffert another Derby prospect
Medina Spirit broke well from the rail, and went gate-to-wire in giving Baffert his ninth victory in the Robert B. Lewis – named for the late owner he used to train for.
The bay colt finished second to stablemate Life is Good by a diminishing three-quarters of a length in the Sham Stakes (G3) in his previous start, and gives Baffert a second Derby prospect.
Medina Spirit, the even money favorite who paid $4, earned 10 Derby qualifying points to move onto the leaderboard that will determine the 20 horses that will run in the May 1 Derby.
Ridden by Abel Cedillo, Medina Spirit fought off several challenges over a track listed as good due recent rains that left 2.4 inches of rain.
The winner was pressed by Wipe the Slate on the backstretch, and then drifted out a bit and was challenged by Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian. The three battled to the wire before Medina Spirit prevailed. Roman Centurian was second, and Hot Rod Charlie third.
“He’s a very game horse,” Cedillo said. “At the quarter pole, I didn’t know, but he looked around and when he saw those horses, he kept going. He didn’t get tired at all. On the gallop out (after the wire), he was by himself.”
Baffert said “That reminded me a little bit of Silver Charm (1997 Kentucky Derby winner). He had every reason to give it up late in the stretch (when) those horses came to him. I thought he was beat. I thought they were going to get by and he wouldn’t let them by, he fought on.”