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A Lot of Bull Last Saturday at Gulfstream

by Brian Nadeau

February 7, 2018

In the "What have you done for me lately" world of the Kentucky Derby Trail, last Saturday’s GII Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park left us with a lot more questions than answers. Sure, there’s still almost three months to the first Saturday in May, and Audible, who blew the field away, is an exciting newcomer, but the also-rans, most notably the favored duo of Enticed and Tiz Mischief, were as uninspiring as could be. So, what happens from here?

Obviously, the Holy Bull is just a starting off point on what many connections hope is a Derby run. And make no mistake, when there are horses like the reigning 2-year-old champion Good Magic, among others, still in the barn, you know the best weren’t on display in the Holy Bull. But don’t tell that to Kiaran McLaughlin and Dale Romans, who respectively ran Enticed and Tiz Mischief, the sharp 1-2 finishers of Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club when they were last seen Thanksgiving Weekend.

Both horses entered with big pedigrees, ace connections, gaudy form and countless reasons to give their backers every indication they would be bigger, stronger, faster versions of the horses they were at 2. But, instead of kick-starting their Derby hopes with a pair of encouraging runs, they did nothing of the sort, with Tiz Mischief running 3rd and Enticed running 4th. And, if you say, “Well, how can you be too hard on someone for running 3rd or 4th?” I’ll add that they were beaten 13 ¼ and 14 ¾ lengths, respectively. And sure, Audible ran off the screen in what was clearly the best sophomore performance to date, but this handicapper isn’t confusing runner-up Free Drop Billy with any kind legitimate Derby contender, so to see Tiz Mischief and Enticed get blown away by him (he was 7 ¾ and 9 ½ lengths ahead of them, respectively), it makes their runs that much more perplexing.

So, where do they go from here? As mentioned above, this was a stepping-off race, and it would be a knee-jerk reaction to think they can’t make amends down the road, but it’s never a good sign to see a top 2yo come back at 3 with a real dud. And, the big horse (or horses) will be waiting in the wings for the local Fountain of Youth, so getting back on the beam will be easier said than done, and may need to take place out of town. This handicapper will need to see a lot more from both before backing, and I say that readily admitting I thought Tiz Mischief had every chance to be a top, top 3yo this year.

As for the winner, Audible was nothing short of awesome for Todd Pletcher and added to what is already a good hand for the barn (Where have we heard that before?) But how good was his 5 ½-length win, especially when his main protagonists didn’t run an inch? I think we need to take a wait and see approach, or a “make him prove it approach,” as this effort just wreaks of the “What happens at Gulfstream stays at Gulfstream” label that get attached to a lot of Pletcher’s dominant South Florida winners. Prior to the Holy Bull, Audible was nothing more than a New York-bred runner who had beaten miserable fields in modest time. Yes, we know these 3yos can improve open lengths overnight, but is all of a sudden Audible a top 3yo? As I mentioned above, I think nothing of Free Drop Billy, and Tiz Mischief and Enticed didn’t fire remotely close to their best, so let’s take the win—as impressive as it was—with a grain of salt going forward.

Good Magic figured 4/5 regardless in the Fountain of Youth, but if he had a TV back at the barn last Saturday, I’m sure he’d be telling you that $3.80 seems like a mighty big overlay.