01/21/2014 12:57PM

Gulfstream Park: Cairo Prince draws ideally for Holy Bull

Barbara D. Livingston
Cairo Prince drew post 7 in a field of 11 3-year-olds for Saturday's Holy Bull Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH,Fla. –The post position draw for Saturday’s Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park elicited mixed reactions from the connections of several of the leading contenders set to compete in the first major 3-year-old test of the meet, including likely favorite Cairo Prince and the undefeated Coup de Grace.

Cairo Prince drew post 7 among the 11 3-year-olds entered for the Holy Bull. Coup de Grace will break from the rail while making his two-turn debut on Saturday. Intense Holiday was the unluckiest of them all, as he will have to break from the extreme outside in the bulky lineup and deal with the relatively short run to the clubhouse turn in the 1 1/16-mile race.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Cairo Prince’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, was all smiles shortly after the draw.

“It was perfect,” said McLaughlin. “I said the middle of the pack would be great so we’re seven of 11. It’s a very competitive and tough race but we shouldn’t have any excuses. He’s ready to go.”

McLaughlin said it was still a little too early to plot out any strategy for Saturday. Luis Saez will be aboard Cairo Prince once again for his 3-year-old bow.

“I’ll have to look over the form of all the horses but Luis knows him well and we’ll let him work out a trip,” said McLaughlin.

Trainer Chad Brown seemed content drawing the rail with Coup de Grace, who will be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez.

[Clocker Reports: Get Mike Welsch’s clocker reports from Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows]

“I’m okay with it,” said Brown. “I know he’ll have some speed on the stretch-out, but he’s going to save a lot of ground that way and we’ve got Johnny so I’m not too worried about it. I’d rather be on the rail than too far out. We put him in behind horses in his works so if someone is intent on getting the lead and cross in front of us, he can sit in the pocket too.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, on the other hand, tried to make the best of the situation for Intense Holiday, who has to break from post 11.

“It’s not ideal by any means but he’s handy enough to hopefully make his way to the first turn, establish position there, and stay out of trouble,” said Pletcher. “We’ve been pointing for this race for a long time and a bad post is always the risk when you enter. Like I’ve said before, sometime you worry about the post and you get bad trips from good posts and good trips from bad ones.”

Top Billing goes a bit shorter

Trainer Shug McGaughey will have not one but two of his three Kentucky Derby hopefuls in action here Saturday. Along with Mr Speaker in the Holy Bull, McGaughey will also send out Top Billing against six other 3-year-olds, including Pletcher’s duo of Surfing U S A and Monopolize, in race 4, a first-level optional $75,000 claimer at 1 1/16 miles. McGaughey also has top 3-year-old Honor Code.

Top Billing, a son of Curlin, was an easy winner of his debut last month at Laurel before returning to finish second, beaten a neck by another Pletcher trainee, Commissioner, going 1 1/8 miles here three weeks ago.

Just six for Forward Gal

Saturday’s Grade 2 Forward Gal, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies, came up light with only six horses entered, topped by the Grade 3-placed Aurelia’s Belle and Pletcher’s undefeated and as of yet untested Onlyforyou. The remainder of the lineup consists of recent winners Resistivity, Flash Encounter, Stately Defence, and My Dear Regina.

River Seven aims at Donn

River Seven, who set a track record winning the Harlan’s Holiday on Dec. 22, continues to progress toward a likely start in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here next month after working five furlongs in 1:00.62 at Gulfstream on Monday. River Seven, a son of Johannesburg trained by Nick Gonzalez, set a course record for 1 1/16 miles after completing the distance in 1:41.73 posting his third consecutive victory and first on dirt in the Harlan’s Holiday.

“The Donn is still in our plans. That’s the schedule we’re on right now,” Gonzalez said after the work on Monday. “Just gave him a nice little breeze today. Typical River style, he just makes it look simple. He’s got gears and has been doing real, real well. So far everything’s gone according to plan. We’ll breeze him one more time, and hopefully February 9 comes without incident.”

Gonzalez admitted even he is surprised by the progress River Seven has made over the past several months.

“I never thought he could get any better off that 10-length win at Woodbine the day he freaked out on the soft turf and beat older horses for the first time,” said Gonzalez. “Yet he’s continued to do so. I just want the next three weeks to go by as fast as they can and if he’s as good on Donn Day as he is today, Nick Gonzalez is going to be real happy.”

Productive trip for Stevens

Jockey Gary Stevens completed his big weekend in south Florida on a winning note Monday by guiding the well-bred and very promising 3-year-old Gala Award to a game maiden victory in his second career start. Gala Award, a $1.55 million yearling purchase trained by Pletcher, had finished second in his debut, both his races coming on the turf.

Stevens came to Gulfstream to ride Mucho Macho Man to an easy victory in the Sunshine Millions Classic on Saturday and attend the Eclipse Awards here that evening.