01/28/2011 3:07PM

Holy Bull a step closer to the Kentucky Derby

Bob Coglianese
Mucho Macho Man has been training forwardly for his 3-year-old debut.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – For the most part, the Grade 3 Holy Bull has simply been regarded as the first step on the road to both the Florida Derby and ultimately Kentucky Derby for 3-year-olds stabled in south Florida each year. And while the one-mile Holy Bull remains the first of the local Derby preps, its status has dramatically changed due to a purse increase, up from $150,000 to $400,000 this winter, which basically turns the race into a win and you’re in event for the Kentucky Derby.

Eight of the nine 3-year-olds entered for this year’s Holy Bull will avail themselves of the opportunity to pick up enough graded stakes money – $240,000 to be exact – to qualify for the Kentucky Derby with a victory Saturday. The ninth, Gourmet Dinner, already has punched his ticket to Churchill Downs by virtue of his victory in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot at 2.

Gourmet Dinner will be the second choice on the morning line behind Mucho Macho Man, a grand-looking son of Macho Uno who closed out his 2-year-old campaign finishing second behind To Honor and Serve in both the Grade 2 Nashua and Remsen. The 99 Beyer Speed Figure that Mucho Macho Man earned for the Remsen is easily the highest posted by any member of the Holy Bull field.

Mucho Macho Man has been training forwardly for his 3-year-old bow since returning from New York nearly two months ago. He capped off a series of bullet works by zipping five furlongs in 59 seconds on Sunday under regular rider Eibar Coa.

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“He couldn’t be doing any better,” said Kathy Ritvo, who took over the training of Mucho Macho Man after her husband Tim was appointed vice president of racing at Gulfstream shortly before the Nashua. “I don’t think I could have him any sharper and I’m very confident he’s going to go out and run his race. I’m not sure a mile is really a comfortable distance for him but he always breaks sharp and is quick enough to sit close.”

Ritvo said naturally it would be great if Mucho Macho Man could win Saturday and add to the $70,000 in graded earnings that he has already accrued for his second-place finishes in the Remsen and Nashua.

“It would be perfect if we could get the job done and not have to worry about money the rest of the way,” Ritvo said.

Mucho Macho Man, who will start from post 7, fared a lot better at the draw for the Holy Bull than Gourmet Dinner, who will break from the rail out of the one-mile chute. He began his journey from the same post when capturing the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot by 2 1/4 lengths on Nov. 20. The son of Trippi closed his 2-year-old campaign by finishing fourth after a wide trip over the synthetic surface in Hollywood Park’s CashCall Futurity.

“Obviously, I’d rather be more outside, but going a one-turn mile I don’t think the post will make much difference,” said Steve Standridge, who trains Gourmet Dinner for owner-breeder William Terrill. “He comes from behind anyway, and I think by the time they get to the turn he’ll be in the position he wants to be.”

Standridge said even though Gourmet Dinner has more than enough earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, he has been training so well that there was never much of a question about holding him out of the Holy Bull.

“He’s an iron horse, he loves to train,” Standridge said. “He’ll hurt himself if you don’t let him. He’s coming into this race in really good shape, and I wouldn’t change places with anybody right now.”

The remainder of the Holy Bull field is a good one and includes Black N Beauty and Printing Press, first and second, respectively, in a one-mile allowance race here earlier this month; Major Gain, third, beaten a half-length by Santiva, in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Cup to close out his 2-year-old campaign; Leave of Absence, runner-up in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid here opening weekend; Sweet Ducky, a multiple stakes winner who finished fourth in the Delta Jackpot; the undefeated Dialed In; and graded stakes placed Ribo Bobo.

Dialed In may be the biggest question mark in the field, having turned in an extremely impressive performance when overcoming a rough trip to win his debut last fall going 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs. Trainer Nick Zito had hoped to open Dialed In’s 3-year-old campaign in a 1 1/8-mile allowance event nine days earlier but opted to scratch out of the race due to a sloppy track.

The Holy Bull is also one of the qualifying races for the Preakness 5.5, a series which offers a $5.5 million bonus for winning two 3-year-old preps at MID tracks, including the Florida or Santa Anita derby, and the Preakness.