Trainer Shug McGaughey is still sorting out the pecking order of his three-year-old colts, but Top Billing stamped himself as one to watch further down the Triple Crown trail. Making only his third lifetime start in an allowance on the Holy Bull Stakes undercard at Gulfstream Park, the chestnut colt caboosed the field early, but circled the field on the far turn and was hand-ridden by jockey Joel Rosario to a 2 3/4-length success over Surfing U S A.
The son of Curlin was timed in 1:42 3/5, just a half-second off Cairo Prince's time in the Holy Bull and within shouting range of the track record of 1:41 3/5 set by River Seven in December. Top Billing earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure (but a 95 BRIS Speed rating) for his performance.
"I'm not sure who was behind him," McGaughey offered. "On paper it looked maybe better than it was, but for him to get back and make a run like that…he was an easy winner. I was impressed with him."
Top Billing will almost certainly find himself in stakes company next time, but it is unlikely that he would face off with highly regarded stablemate Honor Code in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes in four weeks' time at Gulfstream.
"I'll have to see how he comes out of it and I'll speak to (owner) Mr. Farish the first of the week," McGaughey said. "I'll figure out what he wants to do and how much pressure he wants to put on him."
Racing for the partnership of breeders William S. Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr., Top Billing has now won two of three career appearances and $56,835. In his previous start, the three-year-old lost a narrow decision to Commissioner -- a highly regarded colt from the Todd Pletcher barn -- in a Gulfstream allowance on January 3.
McGaughey also saddled Mr Speaker in the Holy Bull itself. That Phipps Stable homebred had won his last two starts on turf, including a rallying success in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream in December, but didn't transfer that form to the main track in the Holy Bull. Sent off as the 8-1 fourth choice, the Pulpit colt raced in third in the early stages before fading to finish seventh behind the authoritative Cairo Prince.
"I was a little surprised that he was up that close, but the winner was sitting right on his tail," McGaughey pointed out. "I think at this point he's going to be better on the grass, so we'll go back to grass. I think the (three-year-olds) back around here are pretty good."
McGaughey mentioned the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes on March 1 as another target for Mr Speaker.