Fox Hill Farms' WINSLOW HOMER (Unbridled's Song), who had dominated lesser foes in his past two starts, smoothly handled his first major class test in Saturday's $150,000 Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream Park. Always traveling well beneath Ramon Dominguez, the Tony Dutrow trainee split rivals at the top of the stretch and outfinished 8-5 favorite Jackson Bend (Hear No Evil) by three-quarters of a length. In the span of 1:35 4/5, the time it took to complete the one-turn mile on a fast track, Winslow Homer stamped himself as a top-rank Kentucky Derby (G1) contender.
"I came here today without any particular expectations, just hoping he would keep his place in line (on the Derby trail)," said Dutrow, who had previously admitted that Winslow Homer is not best suited by one-turn racing. "Naturally, I have to be very pleased with the way he ran. Mr. (Rick) Porter and I decided we might be in business with a good horse after we watched him work one morning at Delaware Park in about late June and he hasn't disappointed us yet.
We'll look ahead now to the Fountain of Youth ([G2] at 1 1/8 miles on February 20) if all goes well. He's actually bred for two turns. The goal is the Kentucky Derby."
A gray reminiscent of Fox Hill's past notable progeny of Unbridled's Song -- Rockport Harbor, Eight Belles and Old Fashioned -- Winslow Homer was dispatched as the 7-2 co-second choice in his stakes debut. He was bumped right out of the gate and relegated a bit farther back than usual in seventh, but soon cruised up into a close stalking position of his own accord.
Up front, a pace battle was unfolding. Piscitelli (Victory Gallop) had his head in front of a five-way scrum through an opening quarter in :23 4/5, with Aikenite (Yes It's True), Homeboy Kris (Roman Ruler), Jackson Bend and Thank U Philippe (Proud Accolade) all heads apart. By the time the half was reached in :45 3/5, Homeboy Kris had grabbed a narrow advantage from Thank U Philippe, and Aikenite and Piscitelli were beginning to drop back. As the two leaders continued their duel through six furlongs in 1:09 3/5, and Jackson Bend kept up the pressure in third, Winslow Homer was just galloping along the inside, still on the bridle and needing only a clear path.
Turning into the stretch, Jackson Bend ranged up on the outside to challenge the battling pair of Homeboy Kris and Thank U Philippe. Meanwhile, a seam opened up between the longtime leaders, and Winslow Homer seized the opportunity to drive straight through and take command. Jackson Bend made a renewed effort to stay with Winslow Homer, and that late bid led Dominguez to ask his mount for more. Winslow Homer responded and kept pulling out enough to keep his more experienced opponent at bay, returning $9.60, $4.60 and $3.60 to his supporters.
"There is always a little concern when you are up on the inside covered up, especially with a young horse like him," Dominguez said, "but I was hoping that somewhere along the line things would open up because I felt like I had a lot of horse. And when the hole barely opened up, he squeezed through horses, and did it very professionally. When he made the lead, he started to come back to me, so I had to encourage him a little to keep going, but he's a professional and he's just improving tremendously with each race."
Jackson Bend paid $3.40 and $2.60 for finishing an honorable second, 3 1/4 lengths clear of the late-running William's Kitten (Kitten's Joy).
"My horse ran his race," jockey Jeremy Rose said of Jackson Bend. "I had him positioned right where I wanted him, but when the winner (Winslow Homer) split horses and made his move, he had a little more left. But my horse is a good horse. He ran well."
William's Kitten furnished $4.40 as the 12-1 sixth choice in the nine-horse field. Another 1 1/2 lengths back came Thank U Philippe, who prevailed in a three-way photo for fourth with Homeboykris and Aikenite. The exotics were worth $32.20 (exacta), $251.20 (trifecta) and $1,398 (6-9-5-1 superfecta). Wild Lime (Limehouse), Litigation Risk (Closing Argument) and Piscitelli completed the order under the wire.
Winslow Homer, a $310,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, boosted his bankroll to $152,825 from his 4-3-0-1 record. In his debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs at Delaware Park last July, he encountered trouble and was beaten a half-length in third. Winslow Homer easily broke his maiden next time out in an off-the-turf event going seven furlongs at Saratoga, pulling away to score by three lengths. He raced only once more as a juvenile. Stretching out to one mile at Philadelphia Park on November 20, he crushed an entry-level allowance field by 12 1/2 lengths.
Bred by Overbrook Farm in Kentucky, Winslow Homer is the first foal from Grade 3 heroine Summer Raven (Summer Squall), who has since produced a juvenile filly named Elusive Raven (Elusive Quality) and a yearling filly by Pulpit. This is the family of millionaire Wild Rush (Wild Again), hero of the 1998 Metropolitan H. (G1) and Carter H. (G1), as well as English Group 1 victor Hayil (Dayjur).