2023 Holy Bull Stakes Recap

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott put himself firmly on the Road to the Kentucky Derby by preparing the first two home in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 4.

Mott’s well-backed 2.6-1 second favorite Rocket Can rallied from midpack to take the lead in the stretch of the 1 116-mile contest, and had enough in hand to take the honors.

Closing rapidly on Rocket Can was stable companion Shadow Dragon, who was much less fancied at 34-1 but just three-quarters of a length from the winner at the line.

The victory earned Rocket Can 20 points on the Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby table, placing the Into Mischief colt in third place on the table behind Forte and Instant Coffee. Shadow Dragon, a son of first-crop sire Army Mule, earned 8 points for his efforts.

Shadow Dragon was 2 14 lengths clear of 58-1 outsider West Coast Cowboy, who stuck well after settling near the speed. A first-crop son of West Coast from the stable of Saffie Joseph, he earned 6 points on the Derby Road.

Legacy Isle earned 4 points on the Derby Road for his fourth-place finish, while Il Miracolo went away with 2 points for finishing fifth. Favorite Cyclone Mischief was a massive disappointment in seventh position.

Rocket Can will be a candidate to stay the 1 14-mile Kentucky Derby trip. He’s a son of Into Mischief, sire of Derby winners Authentic and Mandaloun, and Rocket Can is out of a Tapit mare.

By Alastair Bull

Holy Bull Stakes History

Question: What do Kentucky Derby champions Go for Gin (1994), Funny Cide (2003), and Barbaro (2006) all have in common?

Answer: They all used the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park as a steppingstone toward career-defining victories in the “Run for the Roses.”

Inaugurated in 1990 as the Preview S., the race was renamed in 1996 to honor the recently-retired 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, who counted the Florida Derby (G1) among his major stakes wins at Gulfstream.

Through the years, the conditions of the Holy Bull have shifted repeatedly; the distance has been changed seven times, and the purse has risen and fallen like the tides. But one element has never changed, and that is the Holy’s Bull status as a key prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Case in point? Between 1991 and 2018, a span of 28 years, the Holy Bull produced 41 Kentucky Derby starters while coming up empty only twice. Go for Gin and Barbaro managed to sweep both the Holy Bull and the Kentucky Derby during their productive winter/spring campaigns, while fan favorite Funny Cide finished fifth in the Holy Bull before peaking on the first Saturday in May.

Also noteworthy, Holy Bull participants Captain Bodgit (1997), Closing Argument (2005), Mucho Macho Man (2011), Wicked Strong (2014), Frosted (2015), Mohaymen (2016), Classic Empire (2017), and Audible (2018) all went on to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.

The Holy Bull offers Kentucky Derby qualifications points to the top five finishers on a 20-8-6-4-2 basis. The race was held over 1 116 miles from 1991 through 2004 and returned to its signature distance in 2013. Quick times have been common in the Holy Bull, but through 2020 no one has run faster than Go for Gin, who clocked 1 116 miles in 1:41.62.

By J. Keeler Johnson