Less than a week after he was left scratching his head, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gleefully watched Grade 2 winner Cairo Prince roll through a five-furlong work at Palm Meadows on Sunday. With jockey Luis Saez up, the sophomore Pioneerof the Nile colt went five-eighths in :59 3/5, the fastest of 31 works at the distance, breezing in company with Shadwell-owned four-year-olds Qeyaas and Grade 3-placed Elnaawi, each timed in 1:00 2/5.
"It was a great work," McLaughlin said. "We worked back quick for us, from Tuesday to Sunday, to get him on a weekend schedule. (Today) he worked behind two nice older horses; they all needed company so it just worked out. He took the dirt real well and split horses, so we're very happy with the way he worked. We couldn't be happier."
On December 31, Cairo Prince worked four furlongs in :51 4/5, which McLaughlin attributed to "rider error and company error." The previous week, Cairo Prince went the same distance in :47 3/5.
"There was nothing right or wrong about last week," McLaughlin said. "Today was beautiful. We wanted him to take dirt at some point because he's never taken dirt in his races, so it was just perfect. He's a fit horse. It's not a big deal if he goes a little bit slow or a little bit fast.
"We have a couple more works to go before the Holy Bull. It was just a beautiful work. We got it all done today."
The Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull will be run at Gulfstream on January 25. Cairo Prince broke his maiden on October 6 at Belmont Park, then won the Nashua on November 3 and was second by a nose to Honor Code in the Remsen on November 30 in his last start.
"He's filled out some and put on a little weight," McLaughlin said. "We don't need to change anything about him, we just need to keep him the same. He gave Honor Code six pounds last time, so we're happy.
"We feel like we have a very nice horse and we just need to keep him at that level. We don't need to change anything, we don't need to improve; we just need to hopefully stay the same."
Todd Pletcher, who has topped the trainer standings at Gulfstream Park for the last decade, looks to be on course for another successful winter in Hallandale Beach.
In addition to his usual strong contingent of three-year-olds, the Eclipse Award-winning conditioner also has a pair of lightly raced Distorted Humor colts that could make an impact on the older horse division this season. Zaikov, out of action for nine months following an eye-catching maiden win last March at Gulfstream, got back on track on December 13 by winning an optional claimer by 2 1/2 lengths. The gray colt stopped the clock in 1:08 3/5 for six furlongs, and stakes company beckons for him next time.
"I'm thinking about the Hal's Hope (Grade 3 on January 11) for Zaikov," Pletcher offered. "We'll see how he breezes next time.
"My original thought was maybe to wait for the Gulfstream Sprint (Grade 3), but February 8 seems a little far away right now. He's training very well, so I'm going to consider the Hal's Hope."
Catron was benched after graduating first time out at Belmont in June, but scored by 4 1/2 lengths under a hand ride in his comeback at Gulfstream on December 22. Although a little further behind in his schedule than stablemate Zaikov, Catron is also on his way to bigger and better things.
"There are a lot of similarities between the two," Pletcher acknowledged. "Both are nice horses and hopefully have stakes futures. Catron could end up in the (Gulfstream) Sprint."
Pletcher gave his Champagne Stakes winner Havana a brief respite following his runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on November 2.
"Havana is just getting back to light training," Pletcher said about the Dunkirk colt. "I felt like I was going to be rushing things a bit to make the Holy Bull. Right now I have the Fountain of Youth (February 22) circled in as his first target. He's been at Palm Meadows since the Breeders' Cup. He's filled out and I think he looks great."
Harpoon, who completed the exacta in each of his first three appearances, earned his diploma with a 5 1/2-length score going a mile at Gulfstream on December 26. Plans are currently fluid for the gray son of Tapit, but he will likely get a chance to run a bit further in his next start.
"Everything's in play for Harpoon," Pletcher remarked. "We'll continue to try to stretch him out around two turns and see where he fits."