Saturday’s Holy Bull No Soft Spot for Mo Donegal
Remsen Hero to Face Deep Field of Rivals
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal is poised to make his 2022 debut in the $250,000 Holy Bull (G3) Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and his Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has opted for no soft spot for the son of Uncle Mo’s highly anticipated return to action.
The 33rd running of the Holy Bull, the first graded-stakes on the Road to the Florida Derby (G1), headlines a 12-race program that will also feature the $100,000 Claiborne Swale (G3), $100,000 Forward Gal (G3), $100,000 Kitten’s Joy (G3) and $100,000 Sweetest Chant (G3).
Although Mo Donegal, 3-1 on the morning line, will be put to the test in a field that includes two Grade 1 stakes-placed opponents, the Pletcher-trained colt has already passed the most rigorous test for all Triple Crown prospects – the two-turn test over 1 1/8-miles. The $250,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale enters the Holy Bull off a gutsy triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Dec. 4.
“We were pretty focused on the Remsen right after he broke his maiden. We locked in on that and after the race I got with [Donegal Racing’s] Jerry Crawford, and we talked about how we could go about getting on the Derby trail. We decided that the Holy Bull was the right starting point,” said Pletcher, who saddled Audible (2019) and Algorithms (2012) for Holy Bull victors. “It gives us plenty of options. If he were to run well, we still have the (March 4) Fountain of Youth to come back in if we wanted to or we could train up to the Florida Derby like we did with Audible. We kind of felt like it put us in a position to have the most options.”
Mo Donegal finished third in his Sept. 30 debut at Belmont, in which he broke slowly and was subsequently steadied in traffic. He came right back to graduate at 1 1/16-miles despite breaking a step slowly a month later. In the Remsen, Mo Donegal encountered bumping at the start, moved to the lead heading into the stretch, and battled with Zandon to the wire to eke out a triumph by a nose.
“I’m really pleased with his training since he came here after the Remsen. We targeted this right away and, knock on wood, thankfully everything has gone according to schedule,” Pletcher said. “He has not missed a beat since he’s been here.”
Mo Donegal’s Pletcher-trained sire, who captured the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was 1-for-1 at Gulfstream, where he dominated the Timely Writer Stakes in his 3-year-old debut in March 2011. He takes after Uncle Mo in the looks department.
“Uncle Mo stamps his offspring probably more so than any stallion in the country. He looks like a lot of them do. He’s got the same build. He’s a good-sized colt,” Pletcher said. “He’s had a bit of a growth spurt and he’s done what you’d like to see 2-year-olds turning 3 and young 3-year-olds this time of year do, growing and physically developing.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return mount aboard Mo Donegal, whose opponents will include Kenny McPeek-trained Tiz the Bomb, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar, and Dale Romans-trained Giant Game, third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds LTD’s Tiz the Bomb rode a three-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf that started with a dazzling front-running maiden score by 14 ½ lengths in an off-the-turf second-out maiden race at Ellis Park July 2. The son of 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile turf winner Hit It a Bomb went on to capture the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile and the Bourbon (G2) at Keeneland from off the pace on turf.
“There are limited opportunities for 3-year-old grass horses in North America. He’s a really talented horse and we don’t want to lock him in as strictly a grass horse. There’s no sense pigeonholing him as a grass horse,” McPeek said. “Even last year we could have made a case for keeping him on dirt, but I chose to keep him separated from some of my other colts. At this stage, we’re going to give him the opportunity to play on the dirt.”
Tiz the Bomb dropped back to 12th while in traffic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf before rallying strongly to finish second behind Modern Games.
“I thought it was somewhat of an unlucky trip, but he still ran well. It was a respectable run. He ran a good race; he split horses and came flying late. The other horse got a little bit of a jump on him,” said McPeek, who saddled Harvey Wallbanger for a 29-1 upset victory in the 2019 Holy Bull.
Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. is scheduled to travel from Fair Grounds for the Holy Bull.
Albaugh Family Stables LLC and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Giant Game made a four-wide move into contention in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before settling for third in his stakes debut. The son of Giants Causeway, who will be ridden by Luis Saez for the first time Saturday, had previously finished third in the debut before graduating by three lengths at Keeneland in his two-turn debut.
C2 Racing Stable LLC and La Milagrosa Stable LLC’s White Abarrio enters the Holy Bull off a third-place finish behind McPeek-trained Smile Happy and Brian Lynch-trained Classic Causeway in the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.
“He’s coming out of a strong prep that Smile Happy won, and he’s the Derby favorite right now. The [trainer Keith] Desormeaux horse [Call Me Midnight] that was behind him came back to win the prep at Fair Grounds [G3 Lecomte] the other day, so it’s a race that’s produced some good form so far,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “He’s going to face good horses again this time. This is going to be one of the best preps so far on the Derby trail competition-wise, so he’s going to need to improve, but we feel like he’s eligible to improve.”
White Abarrio was purchased privately after romping to a 6 ¾-length victory in his Sept. 24 debut at Gulfstream, where the son of Race Day came right back to score a five-length optional claiming allowance victory over Strike Hard, who went on to finish second in the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream.
“He’s doing well. He missed some time. He got a little sick, so he missed some days, but he was plenty fit before that,” Joseph said. “I think he goes in there with a good chance.”
Tyler Gaffalione is scheduled to ride White Abarrio for the first time in the Holy Bull.
Tami Bobo’s Simplification, who won the Mucho Macho Man by four lengths in front-running style, is expected to set or attend the early pace while stretching out around two turns for the first time.
“The longer the race, the better is it for my horse,” trainer Antonio Sano said.
The long-striding son of Not This Time broke his maiden at Gulfstream by 16 ¾ lengths at six furlongs in his second career start. He came back to finish a troubled third again at six-furlongs before impressively stretching out to a mile in the Mucho Macho Man.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano has the call on Simplification.
OXO Equine LLC’s Galt, who broke his maiden by three lengths while trying two turns for the first time at Gulfstream, Cash is King LLC and LC Racing LLC’s Eloquist, who finished fifth in the Remsen; Stonehedge LLC’s Cajun’s Magic, a strong force in the Florida Sire Stakes series last year; and BBN Racing LLC’s Spin Wheel, a maiden winner at Churchill Downs last time out; are also entered in the Holy Bull.
2-Mo Donegal-I. Ortiz-Pletcher 5-2
5-Cajun’s Magic-Rios-Yates 8-1
6-Tiz the Bomb-Hernandez-McPeek 6-1
7-Spin Wheel-Leparoux-Arnold 20-1
8-White Abarrio-Gaffalione-Joseph 6-1
9-Giant Game-Saez-Romans 7-2