For most horsemen, having more than one Kentucky Derby prospect is never too much of a good thing. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who already has Remsen winner Honor Code readying for his three-year-old debut, will see if Mr Speaker fits the classics mold in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull marks the dirt debut of Mr Speaker, a son of Pulpit owned and bred by Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills "Dinny" Phipps, who celebrated his family's first Kentucky Derby win a year ago with Orb, whom he co-owned and bred with cousin Stuart Janney III. It was also the first Derby victory for McGaughey.
Sixth and third in his first two outings, Mr Speaker put it all together breaking his maiden in wire-to-wire fashion over Belmont's inner turf in mid-October, and then came back to pull off a come-from-behind 10-1 upset in the Gulfstream's Dania Beach over a mile on the turf December 21.
The impeccable Phipps family bloodlines run through the veins of Mr Speaker, and suggest the switch to dirt should not prove a hindrance. His second dam was the undefeated Hall of Famer Personal Ensign, who, like her dam Grecian Banner, won Broodmare of the Year honors.Two of the colts Honor Code defeated in the November 30 Remsen at Aqueduct, Cairo Prince and Wicked Strong, return for the Holy Bull. In a strangely run race, where glacial fractions of :52 3/5 and 1:17 2/5 were set, Cairo Prince appeared to be on his way to victory after edging clear of Honor Code at the eighth pole. However, Honor Code came back along the inside to poke his nose in front at the wire with Wicked Strong a half-length behind in third.
"People still don't know how to gauge the race because it was so slow -- the pace was so slow," said Jimmy Jerkens, the trainer of Wicked Strong. "It was incredibly slow and they sprinted home. He was going faster than all of them."
The Remsen was the first loss in three starts for Cairo Prince, who Kiaran McLaughlin saddled to a 2 1/2-length victory in the one-mile Nashua at Aqueduct on November 3. Wicked Strong preceded his Remsen third with a two-length maiden score at Belmont over one mile.
Other Holy Bull entrants who competed in one or both of the Aqueduct stakes are Financial Mogul, who rallied for second in the Nashua after a slow start, and Intense Holiday, fourth in both the Nashua and Remsen but unfortunately saddled with the undesirable post 11 in Saturday's race.
Making his stakes debut in the Holy Bull is Coup de Grace, an odds-on winner of his Aqueduct debut and a one-mile Gulfstream allowance last month for trainer Chad Brown.
"It's going to be a tough race," Brown said. "He's unproven around two turns, and it's a real test for him. I think it's that time of year to try him around two turns and then we can figure out how to campaign him the rest of the year."
Coup de Grace will be ridden by John Velazquez, the Hall of Famer who's been out of action since a Breeders' Cup Saturday accident at Santa Anita which resulted in the removal of his spleen.
The rest of the Holy Bull field consists of Almost Famous, a six-length allowance winner at Churchill Downs for Pat Byrne in early November; Our Caravan, a three-length, 35-1 upset winner of his Gulfstream debut over 1 1/16 miles last month; Best Plan Yet, a multiple stakes winner at Calder who came home last in the Gulfstream Park Derby; Conquest Titan, a Canadian stakes winner who impressively turned in a last-to-first allowance score at Churchill; and the Canadian Grade 3-placed Big Bazinga, a well-beaten seventh in the Delta Downs Jackpot most recently.