Was the Holy Bull Really That Bad?

February 8, 2024

Hades upsets the Holy Bull (G3) Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park (Lauren King)

By Laura Pugh

Outside of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, where Nysos ran his opponents off their feet, the Kentucky Derby preps all left us with more questions than answers. The Southwest Stakes saw Mystik Dan come home a dominant winner, but was that because he enjoyed the slop while others regressed? 

Meanwhile, on the East Coast winners of the Holy Bull and Withers did very little to impress. 

With that being said, there is a part of me that wonders if the Holy Bull winner Hades is more than meets the eye. 

The Florida-bred gelding is unbeaten in 3 career starts, and considering his latest test came against Champion Juvenile, Fierceness, there is a possibility that he has more talent than what the surface of his Holy Bull performance showed. 

First off, I think several are being a bit too dismissive of Fierceness. He got “pinballed”—Equibase’s description, not mine—at the start. Say what you want, getting bumped around can take quite a bit of energy out of horses, especially younger ones. He then made an early move, getting his third quarter split in roughly 23.70 seconds; nearly two seconds faster than his previous split, all the while running about 4-5 paths out.

In addition to the race dynamics, which likely took the starch out of his normal turn of foot, Fierceness hadn’t raced since November, and all of his works leading up to the race, save one, were on the slower side. This would indicate that he was also short for the Holy Bull. Given the circumstances, I believe him flattening out in the stretch was forgivable. 

Now, let’s re-focus on Hades. 

Even if Fierceness wasn’t 100%, beating the reigning champ, even at 85% isn’t something to sniff at. The final time was admittedly pedestrian, however, the main track at Gulfstream has been slow this winter and the pace in the Holy Bull was glacial. Given these facts, I don’t think we can act like the final time was a surprise. 

After originally receiving an 85 BSF, the number was adjusted to a 90 just a couple of days later, which is actually a very respectable number for this early in the year. Plus, it leaves room for improvement. His Timeform Fig was 105, which is on par with the original BSF, and his Ragozin was an 11 ¾ with a note that the figure was adjusted due to the slow pace. That figure was faster than what was earned in the Withers.

On the surface, the Holy Bull looks like an atrocious prep. 

However, when looking a little deeper, I believe it is quite possible that Hades could make more of an impact on the Derby trail than many think. His unbeaten record would indicate that he’s no fluke, and it’s very possible that he only ran as fast as he needed to in the Holy Bull. He certainly gave the impression that he had more in the tank, and by looking at his past performances, he is most definitely capable of faster early, while delivering a similar late kick. In fact, that is exactly what he did in his allowance, the start previous to the Holy Bull. 

So, while the final time was slow, and it’s hard to see past the fact that Fierceness flattened out late, I believe it is very possible that both Fierceness and Hades could come back and surprise many with big efforts in their next preps.

Contributing Authors

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that...

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@jonathanstettin Brilliant as always. Agree with everything you said. Thank you! ! 🙂

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