01/28/2016 1:50PM

Mohaymen starts Derby drive in Holy Bull

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Chelsea Durand/NYRA
Mohaymen caps his unbeaten 2-year-old season with a victory in the Remsen at Aqueduct.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has found it difficult to contain his enthusiasm for his undefeated Kentucky Derby prospect Mohaymen, and rightly so. The $2.2 million yearling purchase by Tapit did everything asked of him at 2, becoming an Eclipse Award finalist after winning all three of his starts, including the Nashua and Remsen stakes.

And McLaughlin is confident that Mohaymen will get even better as a 3-year-old, a theory that will get tested for the first time Saturday, when Mohaymen goes postward as the heavy favorite in the $350,000 Holy Bull, the first of two major preps at Gulfstream Park leading up to the $1 million Florida Derby on April 2.

The imposing presence of Mohaymen limited the field for the Grade 2 Holy Bull to only six starters, with 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points going to the winner. The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull is one of five 3-year-old stakes on Saturday’s card, which also includes the Grade 2 Swale and its filly counterpart, the Grade 2 Forward Gal, along with the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant and the Kitten’s Joy. The last two are to be decided on turf, weather permitting.

:: Gulfstream: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

McLaughlin has had great success the past two years in the Holy Bull, winning the race with Cairo Prince in 2014 and finishing second with Frosted last winter, which puts his assessment of Mohaymen into proper perspective.

“He’s the best we’ve ever had,” said McLaughlin. “We’ve had some good prospects in the past but never one who was 3 for 3 as a 2-year-old and one of the favorites from the start of the spring races.”

McLaughlin has been effusive in his praise for the way Mohaymen has trained up to the Holy Bull since arriving at the Palm Meadows training center this winter, describing his final five-furlong prep in 59.40 seconds Jan. 21 with just one word: “Wow!”

“He works well every time and doesn’t blow a match when he comes back,” said McLaughlin.

Mohaymen will break from post 2 under 120 pounds and regular rider Junior Alvarado.

Although Mohaymen is generally considered the horse to beat in the Holy Bull, Greenpointcrusader is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, having captured the one-mile Champagne in impressive fashion at Belmont Park on Oct. 3. The performance earned him the favorite’s role in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but Greenpointcrusader dropped in near the rear of the 14-horse field early on and never got untracked, rallying wide to finish seventh behind the eventual 2-year-old male champion, Nyquist.

“He’s training well, he’s coming up to the race in good shape, he’s fit, and I’m expecting a big effort out of him on Saturday,” said trainer Dominick Schettino.

John Velazquez will be aboard Greenpointcrusader, who carries the high weight of 122 pounds under the allowance conditions of the race.

Like Mohaymen, Conquest Big E is a son of Tapit, and like Greenpointcrusader, he was a bit of a disappointment in the BC Juvenile. Conquest Big E finished eighth after racing within striking distance early in the race. Conquest Big E bounced back to close out his 2-year-old campaign with a two-length allowance win at Churchill Downs.

“This horse has to prove how far he can go and that he can run with the big boys,” said trainer Mark Casse. “He trains like a really good horse. So far, in my mind, he’s only run like a good horse. I’m still waiting for the ‘really’ part. This will be a good test for him.”

Completing the lineup are In Reality Stakes winner Fellowship, Frontier Ranger, and Perfect Saint.

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key CONTENDERS

Mohaymen, by Tapit

(Beyers: 95-89-87)

◗ He not only proved he could stay 1 1/8 miles but showed a great deal of maturity when taking dirt and splitting a narrow opening en route to victory in the Remsen.

◗ Two of the three horses who have come back out of the Remsen won their next start, including runner-up Flexibility, who flattered Mohaymen’s performance by cruising to victory in the Grade 3 Jerome in his 3-year-old debut.

Greenpointcrusader, by Bernardini

(Last 3 Beyers: 82-94-82)

◗ The BC Juvenile has already become a key race. Of the four starters to have run back, Exaggerator (fourth) won the Delta Jackpot, Conquest Big E (eighth) won the aforementioned allowance race, and Isotherm (13th) finished second, beaten a head, in the Grade 3 Dania Beach here this month.

Conquest Big E, by Tapit

(Last 3 Beyers: 84-81-75)

◗ His Beyer Speed Figures have improved with every start, but he’s yet to win on a fast track. His victories came over sloppy surfaces at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.

◗ With little speed signed on for the race, Casse expects to see Conquest Big E close to or on the lead.