No. 4 – 1994 – Holy Bull Has Cause for Concern
Saratoga’s reputation as “The Graveyard of Champions” is well-documented and the list seems to grow almost every couple years. But not every odds-on champion who races here goes down. Not when they simply refuse to lose.
Holy Bull arrived at Saratoga with a career record of 10 victories from 12 starts, the lone setback a sixth in the Fountain of Youth, and a 12th as the 2-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby. Those two races were the only ones Holy Bull didn’t make the lead under Mike Smith, who rode Holy Bull in all but the first of his 16 career starts.
After the Derby, Holy Bull ripped off wins in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap against older horses by 5 ½ lengths, an even easier triumph in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes and a 1 ¾-length victory in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. He would go off the 4-5 favorite in the field of just five in the Travers.
His four opponents included the late-running Arkansas Derby winner Concern and Preakness Stakes winner Tabasco Cat. Concern and Tabasco Cat would subsequently finish first and second that same year in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. To help Tabasco Cat’s chances, trainer D. Wayne Lukas entered a rabbit, Comanche Trail.
Holy Bull obviously had more class, but, given Holy Bull’s failure in the Kentucky Derby, the question lingered. Can he win at a mile and a quarter?
Comanche Trail did his job, sprinting past Holy Bull by a head through a torrid opening quarter of :22 4/5. Holy Bull responded immediately, but had to race a half mile in :46 1/5 to put away the rabbit. Then Holy Bull opened up a four-length lead through three-quarters of a mile in 1:10 2/5. And Jerry Bailey, riding Concern was getting his late-runner into gear.
They hit the head of the stretch with Holy Bull ahead by a length and a quarter after a mile in 1:35 4/5. Announcer Tom Durkin added to the drama with his call that Holy Bull led, “but there is cause for concern.”
At the sixteenth pole, Holy Bull was obviously giving everything he had, but his margin on Concern was shrinking. But not completely. Holy Bull held on by a neck. There was a chasm of 17 lengths back to Tabasco Cat in third.
Holy Bull made just one start after the Travers, whipping his elders by five lengths in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes, cementing not only the three-year-old championship, but Horse of the Year honors as well. Concern showed his immense talent by capturing the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Nobody will forget the afternoon they met in the Mid-Summer Derby.