The first Saturday in February is a big day on the 2017 Kentucky Derby Trail with a number of major graded stakes races on the schedule for up and coming three-year old thoroughbreds. The race at the top of my list is the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
This year's field continues to take shape as we get closer to post time at Gulfstream this Saturday, but I have already found three entries that should come together perfectly for a winning trifecta play.
2017 Holy Bull Stakes: Gulfstream Park
The Holy Bull is a Grade 2 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds and the total prize purse for Saturday's main event at Gulfstream has been set at $350,000. This race will be contested on dirt over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The big question for Saturday's race is will Classic Empire make his debut as a three-year old. Right now he is listed as possible, but if he is in the final field for the Holy Bull, he would be my top pick to win. Trained by Mark Casse, this three-year old Kentucky-bred colt moved to the top of the class when it comes to Kentucky Derby hopefuls with last year's thrilling victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile over Not This Time and Practical Joke at a distance of 1 1/16 miles on the dirt at Santa Anita. This was on the heels of a first-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity Stakes at Keeneland over that same distance.
His early success as a pedigree of Pioneerof the Nile has Classic Empire ranked No. 5 by Horse Racing Nation with a lofty rating of 8.8.
My second choice for Saturday's Holy Bull is trainer Antonio Sano's Gunnevera. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt made a big splash as a juvenile with a victory in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot in his last outing on Nov. 18. He outran both Hot Sean and Dangerfield to pick up the win over the 1 1/16 miles at Delta Downs. This was his third victory in a busy career as a two-year old. He also won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes at that track on Aug. 14 over a distance of 6 ½ furlongs.
A pedigree of Dialed In with a progeny going back to A.P. Indy, he comes into this race with a 7.44 rating at HRN.
The rest of the field starts to tighten up following these two frontrunners, but I have settled in on trainer Todd Pletcher's lone entry in this race, Fact Finding as my third choice to round out a trifecta play for the Holy Bull. Rated 7.42 by HRN, this Kentucky-bred three-year old was also a winner in his final race as a juvenile with a victory in the ungraded Smooth Air Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 12 at a distance of 1 mile. Along with the home track advantage in this race, I also like the fact that this colt has yet to lose in all three races he ran as a two-year old.
He took first place in an Allowance race at Keeneland in mid-October at 6 ½ lengths after winning a Maiden Special Weight race at Saratoga in early August at a distance of six furlongs. Fact Finding is a pedigree of The Factor with a progeny going back to Danzig.