Kentucky Derby Preps: Holy Bull Stakes

[As the road to the 147th Kentucky Derby rolls along, US Racing takes a look back at some history of many of the prep races that now offer qualifying points to Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 1.]

By Margaret Ransom

This year marks the 32nd running of the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the Miami-area oval’s first major prep on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 1.

The 1 1/16-mile main track test on Saturday (Jan. 30) offers road to the Derby points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale, which as of now even a second-place finish could put a runner in the hunt to make the gate for the Run for the Roses. Holy Bull, a son of Great Above and the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown, was 1994’s Horse of the Year after a spectacular 3-year-old season that included wins in the Hutcheson Stakes, Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes on the road to the Derby for owner/trainer Warren “Jimmy” Croll.

The handsome gray finished an uncharacteristic 12th under the Twin Spires in what was a hotly debated topic about whether or not he was medicated, so much so that even his owner/trainer believed it due to the horse’s uncharacteristic performance.

Fortunately, his Derby run did not define his career as he went on to win the Met Mile, Dwyer Stakes, Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes and Woodward Stakes. In addition to his Horse of the Year title, he was also named 1994’s champion 3-year-old. To racing fans, Holy Bull is one of the great grays of all time and joined a club that includes other notable grays like Native Dancer, Spectacular Bid, Winning Colors, Princess Rooney and Lady’s Secret. He stood a lengthy stud career at Darley at Jonabell in Kentucky, where he was a standout sire and was represented by names like Confessional, Macho Uno and Giacomo.

He also is the broodmare sire to many top-notch runners since he retired in 1995 and was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2001. He passed away 3 ½ years ago at the age of 26 at Jonabell, where he spent his entire post-race life.

Since it was first contested in 1991 as the Preview Stakes (and renamed in 1996 for the 1994 winner), the Holy Bull has seen some good horses reach the winner’s circle, including Derby winners Go For Gin (1994) and Barbaro (2006). Other recognizable names to have won the race, which has been contested at various distances from a mile to 1 3/16 miles, include Hal’s Hope, Offlee Wild, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Dialed In, Irish War Cry, Audible and 2020 Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law. It is the traditional prep for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), which has been set for Feb. 27.

Hall of Famer Nick Zito has saddled the most winners of this race with three (1994, Go For Gin; 1995, Suave Prospect; and 2011, Dialed In) while retired fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey has ridden five winners, the most recent being 21 years ago with Cape Town.

The South Florida weather is set to be beautiful and warm, with highs in the low 70s under partly cloudy skies. The Holy Bull is the day’s 11th race with a post time of 5:04 p.m. ET.

Holy Bull Stakes Field

The field for Saturday’s race by post position, with riders and trainers in parentheses:

1 Jirafales (John Velazquez, Gustavo Delgado)

2 Willy Boi (Junior Alvarado. Jeff Engler)

3 Papetu, Luis Reyes, Antonio Sano)

4 Amount (Luis Saez, Todd Pletcher)

5 Tarantino (Edgard Zayas, Rodolphe Brisset)

6 Prime Factor (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Todd Pletcher)

7 Greatest Honour (Jose Ortiz, Shug McGaughey)

8 Sittin On Go (Corey Lanerie, Dale Romans)

9 Awesome Gerry (Tyler Gaffalione, Saffie Joseph, Jr.)

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.