Head to Head: Handicapping the Holy Bull Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the Holy Bull Stakes
Photo: Lauren King / Gulfstream Park

The Grade 3, $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes is the first of three Gulfstream Park qualifying races for Kentucky Derby 2023. The Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 4 and the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1 complete Gulfstream’s Kentucky Derby prep series.

The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull offers 40 Kentucky Derby points (20-8-6-4-2) to the top five finishers. No one in the field has earned points yet, but the winner will jump into the top five on the leaderboard.

See Ed DeRosa's fair odds for the Holy Bull.

Half the field exits the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, and Bill Mott and Saffie Joseph Jr. have two entries each.

The Holy Bull is carded as the 12th and final race on Saturday’s card with an approximate post time of 5:43 p.m. EST, and the track should be fast.



1. Lord Miles

Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., Lord Miles has two career starts, both at Gulfstream. The son of Curlin won his debut by 5 3/4 lengths going six furlongs. Last out, he was a surging third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, missing the win by just 3/4-length to the disqualified Legacy Isle. Lord Miles is a one-run type, which is typically unsuccessful at Gulfstream if a closer is too far off the pace. However, Joseph adds blinkers to the mix for the Holy Bull, an angle with which he is succeeding at a 21 percent rate. Joseph also is striking at a 20 percent clip with second route starters. Irad Ortiz Jr. replaces Edgar Zayas, and Ortiz and Joseph have been winning at a 31 percent clip together. Exotics.


Third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, beaten 3/4 length, Lord Miles shows signs of further progression in the Holy Bull. His Brisnet Speed Rating improved from his first to second start, and his pre-race five-furlong bullet was slightly faster than the Mucho Macho Man pre-race bullet. Additionally, the meet’s leading rider, Irad Ortiz Jr. takes over the reins from Edgard Zayas, who is back aboard West Coast Cowboy. By Curlin out of an unraced half-sister to multiple Grade 3 winner Officiating, Lord Miles should enjoy the extra distance of the Holy Bull to set up his closing kick. Contender.


2. West Coast Cowboy

Also hailing from the Joseph barn, West Coast Cowboy won his debut in the slop, taking the field gate to wire to win the mile event by a determined neck. Much like stablemate Lord Miles, West Coast Cowboy then lost his second start, a mile optional claimer, to Legacy Isle. He wasn’t as quick out of the gate as in his debut and raced in fourth throughout, eventually finishing fourth. Although his Brisnet Speed Rating jumped from a 70 to an 80, that’s not good enough to get the job done here. Pass.


West Coast Cowboy won his debut over a sloppy track by a neck. Only one rival hit the board in their next start, so class is suspect. The Joseph trainee just ran around the track in his next start against optional claimers, lost ground in the stretch, and finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Legacy Isle. If Zayas reverts to pacesetting tactics, West Coast Cowboy could get brave on the front end. But there are others I like better. Pass.


3. Shadow Dragon

Shadow Dragon was a debut winner for Bill Mott, winning a state-bred six-furlong maiden race by 3/4 length after closing strongly. The one-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes for state-breds was Shadow Dragon’s next start, and though the Army Mule colt raced closer to the pace than in his debut, he ended up losing ground throughout the second half of the race to finish sixth, beaten by 15 lengths. His Brisnet Speed Rating dropped from an 83 in his debut to a 70 in the Sleepy Hollow. Both starts were during the Belmont at Aqueduct season, meaning the colt is entering this spot off a 90-plus day layoff, an angle at which Mott is succeeding at a 20 percent rate. Jose Ortiz takes over for Junior Alvarado, and Ortiz and Mott have won 2-of-3 of their recent starts together. First time in open company off a significant layoff? Pass.


Shadow Dragon was a lackluster sixth, bested over 15 lengths in the restricted Sleepy Hollow Stakes in October. But Bill Mott gave the son of Army Mule time to mature, and Shadow Dragon has been breezing steadily at Payson Park. By Grade 1 winning sprinter Army Mule, Shadow Dragon is out of a stakes-placed daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, and his second dam is multiple Grade 1 heroine Jostle, winner of the 1 1/4-mile CCA Oaks (G1), so he should handle the extra distance. However, Mott has one winner from nine starters with 3-year-olds coming off a layoff into graded stakes. Pass.


4. Cyclone Mischief

Cyclone Mischief has a lose-win-lose pattern going. He got nipped at the wire in his debut after leading throughout the mile race, losing by just 3/4 length. He then won at second asking, drawing away to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden race by 5 1/4 lengths. In the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), Cyclone Mischief helped set the early tempo but was engulfed in the stretch to finish seventh in a blanket finish. The son of Into Mischief began his 3-year-old season with a bang, winning an optional claimer here at Gulfstream by 5 3/4 lengths, earning a career-high 99 Brisnet Speed Rating and giving him the highest dirt speed figure and last-race speed figure in the field. Tyler Gaffalione retains the mount, and he and trainer Dale Romans are winning at a 40 percent rate together; but Romans is striking at only a 7 percent clip in graded stakes. Contender.


Cyclone Mischief has a win/lose cycle going on, and he won his last race. It was an impressive performance in his first start off the layoff. The Dale Romans trainee beat Optional Claimers by 5 3/4 lengths and recorded a career-best 99 speed rating. Previously, he finished seventh, bested only 2 3/4 lengths, in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2), which is evolving into a key race. The winner, Instant Coffee, returned to win the Lecomte (G3), while Red Route One and Dennington finished second and third, respectively, in stakes. The only real knock against Cyclone Mischief is the 13.68-second final furlong in his one-mile return. Exotics.


5. Mr Bob

Mr Bob debuted third against Western Ghent, and if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, then I don’t know what to tell you. He then won a maiden claiming race at Keeneland before finishing a close second in the Ed Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs. Last out the son of Practical Joke bobbled at the start and was steadied early, eventually finishing a non-threatening sixth in the Mucho Macho Man behind Legacy Isle and Lord Miles. Trainer Robert Falcone adds the blinkers for the Holy Bull, an equipment change that helps only 10 percent of the time. Falcone is batting 0 in graded stakes, and jockey Joel Rosario isn’t faring much better. Pass.


Mr Bob rose from the maiden claiming ranks to stakes-placed status last year. His first start of 2023 was a nightmare trip in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. He took an awkward step and bobbled coming out of the gate, then steadied, leaving him in last place. Mr Bob raced six wide and finished with interest to finish sixth, bested 4 3/4 lengths by Legacy Isle, who was later disqualified. Robert Falcone, Jr. slaps a new set of blinkers on Mr Bob, but the trainer is 0-for-11 with the first-time blinkers angle. Pass.


6. Legacy Isle

If not for causing interference in the stretch of the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, Legacy Isle would be 3-for-3. A son of Shackleford, Legacy Isle debuted a winner, pulling away to win a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by five lengths over Il Miracolo. Rather than go straight to the lead in his second outing like he did in his debut, Legacy Isle rated in an optional claimer before seizing the lead in the stretch and motoring away to a three-length score in the mile event. In the Mucho Macho Man, Legacy Isle once again went straight to the lead and crossed the wire first but was disqualified to second. All of his races have been at Gulfstream, and he earned a career best 90 Brisnet Speed Rating last out. Trainer Rohan Crichton hasn’t had any success in graded stakes recently, but Luis Saez hops aboard for the first time, perhaps helping the odds a bit. Contender.


Legacy Isle had his 3-for-3 record blemished when he was disqualified for drifting out in the stretch of the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. The Rohan Crichton trainee broke sharply and led them on a merry chase. But he cut off the path of General Jim and veered out about five wide in response to the left-handed whip near the wire, causing Dreaming of Kona to alter course. Shackleford’s son had a pre-race 1:01 five-furlong move, second-best of 26. Contender.


7. Il Miracolo

Il Miracolo rattled off three straight runner-up performances, including one to Legacy Isle, before finally getting his picture taken in his fourth start. Trainer Antonio Sano then shipped this Gun Runner colt from Gulfstream to Aqueduct to contest the Remsen (G2), a race in which he finished sixth, beaten by 31 lengths. Sano then shipped Il Miracolo back to Gulfstream for the Mucho Macho Man, where he finished seventh behind Legacy Isle, Lord Miles and Mr Bob. Sano is winning at only a 3 percent rate in graded stakes, and Leonel Reyes hops back aboard. Il Miracolo won his only race while on the lead, but I don’t think he’ll get that luxury here. Pass.

The later-maturing Il Miracolo made it to the winner’s circle in his fourth attempt with Leonel Reyes aboard. Less than a month later, he shipped to Aqueduct, had a very wide trip in the Remsen (G2), and finished 31 lengths behind the winner. Back at home base in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, Gun Runner’s son had no early speed, didn’t care for the kickback and came out around the far turn, causing him to brush with another horse. Il Miracolo lost focus and drifted from the whip, going up and down instead of forward. Il Miracolo appears to be a large, awkward horse. He would need a miracolo to win, but if he figures out the racing game, he could be competitive at longer distances. Pass.


8. Rocket Can

Rocket Can debuted at Saratoga and finished off the board in both maiden races run there, including a 7th place behind one of the top Derby prospects, Instant Coffee. Trainer Bill Mott shipped Rocket Can to Churchill Downs for his next two starts, a win in the slop to break his maiden and a close second place to Confidence Game last out in an optional claimer, both contested at 1 1/16-mile. Along with the switch in venue, Mott also changed running tactics, switching to a press-pacing style rather than closing, and stretched the colt out around two turns. He earned a 96-Brisnet speed rating in his only win and a 91-speed rating last out. Mott is winning with shippers at a 20% clip, in graded stakes at an 18% clip, and with short layoffs at 18%. Mott and jockey Junior Alvarado are winning together at a 23% rate. Contender.


After beating maidens in his third start, Rocket Can returned against winners. He squared off with Confidence Game, as the duo battled down the stretch. However, a stubborn Confidence Game refused to let Rocket Can by, and the Mott trainee settled for second, a half-length behind. Confidence Game returned to finish third in the Lecomte. Rocket Can has been breezing forwardly at Payson Park, and Mott has a 24% win rate this meet. Contender.



Final thoughts

Half the field exits the Mucho Macho Man Stakes from New Year’s Day where Legacy Isle crossed the wire first but was disqualified to second; the declared winner, Dreaming of Kona, is skipping this race. West Coast Cowboy figures to be the inside speed, but the field could be crowded up front as Cyclone Mischief and Legacy Isle also are confirmed front-runners. Leonel Reyes would do well to hustle Il Miracolo for the early lead, too, if they want a shot at winning. Mr Bob and Rocket Can will sit right off those front-runners, with Lord Miles and Shadow Dragon bringing up the rear. Lord Miles was super impressive in nearly running down Legacy Isle and Dreaming of Kona in the Mucho Macho Man, but he did catch a strong early pace. If he gets a similar setup, he will be dangerous despite Gulfstream’s heavy speed bias.

Laurie: Eleven of the last 15 Holy Bull winner won their final prep, and only one finished worse than third (fourth). Five favorites won, and all except one finished in the superfecta. Most of the winners were pace pressers, who stayed within two lengths of the lead.

Rocket Can fits the profile of previous Holy Bull winners. He and stablemate Shadow Dragon are the only ones in the field who recorded triple-digit late-pace figures in their career. Rocket Can regressed slightly numbers-wise in his first start against winners, but he’s had time to mature, and Cyclone Mischief has earned a higher speed rating. 

I like Cyclone Mischief, but he’s unreliable. Will he break the win/lose cycle?

Lord Miles is worth a look for exotics. None of the last 15 winners broke from post 1, but eight filled out the exotics.




4. Cyclone Mischief

8. Rocket Can

6. Legacy Isle

6. Legacy Isle

8. Rocket Can

4. Cyclone Mischief

1. Lord Miles

1. Lord Miles

Ashley Tamulonis pens the Coast To Coast blog at Horse Racing Nation, and Laurie Ross writes the Pedigree Power blog.

Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

Top Stories

On a card worthy of the obscene purse money being...
He is not nominated for the Triple Crown, but Texa...
Pace makes the race. After slow fractions, Kingsba...
You knew it was coming. With the first Kentucky De...
Fort Bragg originally was set to race Sunday in th...