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Holy Bull contenders put finishing touches on preparations
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Cairo Prince tuned up for a scheduled start in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park during a sharp half-mile breeze at Palm Meadows in :48 2/5 Sunday morning.
"We couldn't be happier. It was exactly what we were looking for," McLaughlin said. "He's ready to go."
Cairo Prince launched his career with a victories in a maiden race at Belmont and the Nashua at Aqueduct before being nosed out by Honor Code in a memorable finish to the November 30 Remsen at Aqueduct.
Holy Bull rival Almost Famous also breezed a half-mile in :48 2/5.
"I was very happy with it," trainer Pat Byrne said. "He went up a little quicker than I liked. He worked on his own from the half-mile pole to the wire and galloped out in 1:02 and three-quarters in 1:17. He's ready to go Saturday."
Almost Famous is coming off an impressive six-length allowance victory at Churchill Downs in his first trip around two turns.
"I just put some blinkers on him, just to keep him focused a little, and it worked," said Byrne, whose colt rebounded from a previously disappointing effort in the Street Sense.
Almost Famous was forced to scratch from the November 30 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes with a hoof bruise. Connections then eyed the January 1 Gulfstream Park Derby, only to decide to await the Holy Bull.
Calvin Borel, who was aboard for his debut victory at Churchill in September, will be reunited with Almost Famous on Saturday.
Chad Brown's highly-regarded Coup de Grace drilled a bullet half-mile in :47 2/5, tying with stablemate Cousin Stephen for the fastest of 52 works at the distance.
None other than Hall of Famer John Velazquez was aboard Coup de Grace, according to Daily Racing Form. Velazquez, who is about to launch his comeback from serious injuries suffered in a spill in the November 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, will guide the unbeaten colt in his stakes debut in the Holy Bull.
For trainer Todd Pletcher, Holy Bull candidate Intense Holiday toured an easy half in :49. He was fourth in both the Nashua and Remsen.
Hard-charging Remsen third Wicked Strong, who has been mentioned as possible for the Holy Bull, sped five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 for Jimmy Jerkens.
At Payson Park, Dania Beach Stakes winner Mr Speaker breezed a half-mile Sunday morning in preparation for a scheduled start in the Holy Bull.
"He worked in :49 2/5 and worked great," trainer Shug McGaughey said.
Mr Speaker is set to make his debut on dirt in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull after making his first four starts on turf, including a maiden score at Belmont and his subsequent victory in his stakes debut in the Dania Beach at Gulfstream on December 21.
The son of Pulpit is out of Salute, a daughter of undefeated champion Personal Ensign.
"Pulpit never ran on the turf. Salute never ran on the turf," McGaughey said. "He's trained good on the dirt."
The final decision to point Mr Speaker to the Holy Bull was made after he worked behind horses at Payson last week to see how the Phipps Stable's homebred colt would handle kickback.
"He handled it fine. I just wanted to see how he'd handle the dirt, and he handled it fine," McGaughey said.
McGaughey has scheduled a work for Top Billing, a lightly raced three-year-old son of Curlin, at Payson Park on Monday. Top Billing broke his maiden at first asking at Laurel in December before coming back a month later in a Gulfstream allowance, in which he closed with a rush to finished second behind highly-regarded Commissioner by a neck.
Honor Code, the most accomplished McGaughey-trained three-year-old, galloped Sunday morning at Payson after breezing three furlongs in :38 Saturday morning.
"I think everything is in good shape," said McGaughey, who is pointing the son of A.P. Indy to the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on February 22.
Honor Code concluded his two-year-old campaign with a nose win over Cairo Prince in the Remsen. He subsequently underwent surgery to remove an undescended testicle.