Champion Classic Empire Returns in Holy Bull
By Casey Laughter
Saturday’s Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) is run as the first major Kentucky Derby (GI) prep race at Gulfstream. Since 1990, only two horses have completed the Holy Bull-Kentucky Derby double: Go for Gin (1994) and Barbara (2006). However, there have been quality horses who have won the race and have had nice careers afterward, including Algorithms, Itsmyluckyday, and Mohaymen.
This year, we see a few nice 3-year-olds making their seasonal bow, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner and recently crownd champion Classic Empire, and multiple graded stakes winner Gunnevera. There also will be up-and-coming young colts, such as Irish War Cry and Fact Finding likely to enter the gate.
Classic Empire has blossomed into a real racehorse and looks to continue his nearly perfect record through Florida and into Louisville. In his more recent workout, he worked with Kentucky Oaks (GI) contender Pretty City Dancer, completing five furlongs in 1:03 4/5. While it was more of a maintenance work, the son of Pioneerof the Nile has looked fantastic, according to Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark Casse. Classic Empire has maintained his professional demeanor since the addition of blinkers following a gate debacle in the Hopeful Stakes (GI) at Saratoga; since then, he has run twice around two turns and has won both times. Additionally, his pedigree closely resembles that of 2016 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Other the Classic Empire, who is one to watch in the race? Gunnevera was last seen winning the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII) boosting his earnings $771,000, and helping his sire, Dialed In, reach t the top of the 2016 first crop sires list. Gunnevera is pace dependent, which may be his biggest weakness but may get the pace he needs in here. However, as Classic Empire is not the only speed, Gunnevera could close nicely to either get a piece or just edge for the win. This 1 1/16-mile distance likely is more in his wheelhouse and he will also appreciate more distance later on.
The unbeaten Todd Pletcher-trained Fact Finder will get his hooves a little deeper as he takes on more quality competition. The extra distance shouldn’t be his undoing, but his competition might be. While Pletcher usually brings his best horses to Florida, Fact Finding will have to step up to prove the best.
Irish War Cry is having to step up as well. The New Jersey-bred son of Curlin is coming on off two wins at Laurel. The colt has been training well at Palm Meadows with trainer Graham Motion, working four furlongs in 48.95 and then five furlongs 1:01. The colt will have to obviously step up in class, and personally, the pedigree suggests a turf course may be more to the colts liking, regardless of those two wins on dirt at Laurel.
The Holy Bull will be a test of the talent of many of the colts based in Florida this winter, and will look to unveil who can go the distance and who cannot. Other entries include Talk Logistics, Shamsaan, Fire for Effect, Cavil and Perro Rojo.
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