01/26/2009 12:00AM

Beethoven, West Side Bernie to Holy Bull

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A year ago, Gulfstream Park officials attempted to garner additional interest in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes by carding it several weeks after the Florida Derby in an effort to lure prospective Kentucky Derby contenders in need of some last-minute graded earnings.

The plan seemed to have merit but when it failed to produce the desired results, first-year racing secretary Doug Bredar wasted little time placing the 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull back into the regular mix of 3-year-old stakes this winter. On Saturday, it will provide an early season test of both class and stamina for a field that is expected to include graded stakes winners Beethoven and West Side Bernie, along with several other highly regarded 3-year-old prospects.

The Holy Bull will share top billing Saturday with the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Entries for the card will be drawn Wednesday.

The Holy Bull did lose some of its luster with the news this past weekend that Big Drama would have to pass the event. Big Drama, who already has more than enough graded earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby after closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the $750,000 Delta Jackpot, suffered a minor injury that has delayed his 3-year-old debut.

West Side Bernie, runner-up to Big Drama in the Delta Jackpot, will start in the Holy Bull and could be joined in the lineup by stablemate Atomic Rain, according to trainer Kelly Breen. Atomic Rain, runner-up behind Old Fashioned in the Grade 2 Remsen, has yet to finish worse than second in four starts. He was beaten a neck by the undefeated Free Country going nine furlongs under entry-level allowance conditions here Jan. 8.

Atomic Rain worked five furlongs in 1:00 with blinkers on Sunday at Palm Meadows and will run in blinkers for the first time in his next start.

"That was his first real workout in blinkers, and he worked dynamite," Breen said.

Breen said the initial plan was to run Atomic Rain in the Grade 3 Sam Davis at Tampa on Feb. 14 and that would be the alternative if he does not go in the Holy Bull.

Beethoven will likely be favored in the Holy Bull, having won three of his last four starts, including the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last November in his last start. Beethoven is owned and trained by the team of John Oxley and John Ward Jr. who combined to win the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos.

Other prospective starters for the Holy Bull include Bear's Rocket, Bruce N Autumn, Danger to Society, Idol Maker, Nowhere to Hide, Rockland, and Stately Character.

Nowhere to Hide is coming off a one-mile maiden win at Calder, and trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, is hopeful the son of Vindication is ready to take the next step forward in the Holy Bull.

"Normally, you just don't jump into a spot like this off a maiden win, but he ran a lot as a 2-year-old, so he has the experience and plenty of bottom," Zito explained. "He also competed against and ran well with horses who have gone on to prove themselves in stakes company. Besides, it's that time of year and this race should give us an idea where we stand."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman