Holy Bull's story: Debate will rage over credentials


HALLANDALE, Fla. -- With the way he performed on the racetrack Saturday in the Florida Derby, it looks as if Holy Bull is so good, so fast, so superior to every other 3-year-old (at least in the East) that they'll never catch him in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, there's a lot to like about Holy Bull, a horse who may be in a class by himself. Problem is, there's a lot to dislike. With his breeding and his running style, he doesn't fit the profile of the typical Kentucky Derby winner. This debate is not about to go away.

The Derby is the most demanding race in this country. Run at a mile and a quarter and packed with as many as 20 starters, the race can only be won if a horse stands up to the pressure and the distance. Everything about Holy Bull's breeding says he can't do it. His Dosage Index is 6.0, over the 4.0 cutoff that has eliminated all but one Derby winner in modern times.

It's also not a front-runner's race. Since 1948, there have been only five wire-to-wire Derby winners. The last four winners have come from 13th, 12th, 12th and 11th.

Holy Bull will go next in the 1 1/8 -mile Blue Grass on April 16 at Keeneland and should win easily. But a victory there won't settle any of the questions.

One possibility: Someone hooks Holy Bull in the Derby, forces him through a brutal early pace, the bloodlines show through and he unravels like a $69 suit.

Another possibility: He's a genetic oddity who can do anything, including win the Kentucky Derby.

"We call those horses freaks and I think he's a freak," trainer Jimmy Croll said yesterday. "He's done more than anybody ever thought he would and I can't tell you why.

"He's quick enough and what I attribute that to is that it doesn't look like he's doing anything. He's got a tremendous stride and covers so much ground. For every three strides the rest take, he takes two."

As for the rest of the Florida Derby starters, runner-up Ride The Rails is headed to the Arkansas Derby, third-place finisher Halo's Image may run next in the Flamingo and fourth-place finisher Go For Gin is Wood Memorial-bound after another disappointing effort.

A new face emerged Saturday at Oaklawn Park as Southern Rhythm, who was impressive in sprints earlier the meet, won the one-mile Southwest Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths.

Trainer James Keefer listed the Rebel and the Jim Beam as future options. The Southwest cooled the Derby hopes of third-place finisher Polar Expedition and fourth-place finisher Chimes Band.

This weekend's activities include Saturday's Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds and Sunday's San Felipe at Santa Anita.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Brocco is expected to finally emerge in the San Felipe, as is Valiant Nature, the only horse ever to beat him. Canaveral, who failed to draw into the Florida Derby, is expected in an allowance race Wednesday at Gulfstream, if the race fills.

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