01/20/2011 3:58PM

Pursuit of Preakness 5.5 bonus starts in Holy Bull

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Gourmet Dinner, winning the Delta Jackpot, will make his next start in the Holy Bull on Jan. 30.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The 2011 Preakness is still more than four months away, but the MI Developments Preakness 5.5 kicks off here next Sunday with the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. The Preakness 5.5 is a $5.5 million bonus that will be awarded to the owner and trainer of any 3-year-old who wins a series of races at MID tracks culminating with the Preakness at Pimlico on May 21. To earn the bonus, a horse must first win the Holy Bull or Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream; the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields; or the Grade 2 Robert Lewis or Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita. Those qualifiers must then win either the Grade 1 Florida Derby or Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby as a prelude to a victory in the Preakness.

MID is also offering a $2.2 million companion bonus for 3-year-old fillies culminating with a victory in Pimlico’s Black-Eyed Susan on May 20.

The Holy Bull is shaping up to be the best 3-year-old race to date in 2011. A field of eight to 10 is expected, topped by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Boys at Tosconova, Delta Jackpot winner Gourmet Dinner, Nashua and Remsen runner-up Mucho Macho Man, Black N Beauty, and several others from among a group that includes Casper’s Touch, Reprized Halo, Sweet Ducky, Shadow Warrior, Leave of Absence, Printing Press, and Rescind the Offer, according to racing secretary Dan Bork.

On Thursday, Gourmet Dinner had his most serious work since shipping locally from Calder two weeks ago, zipping five furlongs in 58.40 seconds under jockey Sebastian Madrid in company shortly after the first renovation break here. Gourmet Dinner posted splits of 34.70 for three-eighths and 46.52 for a half, leaving his company approaching the eighth pole before shading 12 for his final furlong when put to some pressure by Madrid. Gourmet Bull galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.52.

“The work went a little quicker than I was looking for, but the instructions were for Sebastian to sit on him until he turned for home and let him run a little bit through the stretch, and that’s exactly what he did,” trainer Steve Standridge said. “What I liked best about the work is that he did it the right way. The horse is good right now. He obviously likes the track, and off this work he is now definite for the Holy Bull.”

Standridge said Gourmet Dinner would probably blow out for the race Thursday.

Meanwhile, at Palm Meadows, the 3-year-old Leave of Absence worked a half-mile in 48 for trainer Rick Violette. It was easily the fastest of 28 works at the distance on Thursday’s tab.

Leave of Absence is coming off a troubled second-place finish in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid earlier this month. A son of Harlan’s Holiday, Leave of Absence earned a 94 winning his maiden in his 2-year-old finale, but he broke a bit flatfooted and raced near the rear of the pack before finishing best of all in the Spectacular Bid.

Violette said Thursday he is considering either Leave the Absence or stablemate Rescind the Trade, a two-turn allowance winner at Aqueduct in December, for the Holy Bull.

◗ Along with the Sweetest Chant, Saturday’s program also includes a $57,000 allowance race carded at a mile under high-level optional-claiming conditions. Topping the lineup are Ron the Greek, a stretch-running son of Full Mandate who won the Grade 3 Lecomte last year; Imperial Council, a Grade 2-placed horse; Our Dark Knight; and Headache. Ron the Greek has not started since finishing sixth in the 2010 Louisiana Derby. He will be making his first start Saturday since being moved into the barn of trainer Tom Albertrani.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman