01/25/2015 12:16PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Holy Bull Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Upstart earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Holy Bull.

$400,000 Holy Bull Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Gulfstream Park, Jan. 24, 2015

 (10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

 Winner: Upstart

 Trainer: Rick Violette

 Jockey: Jose Ortiz

 Owner: Ralph Evans

 Beyer Speed Figure: 105

 UPSTART was one of the elite 2-year-olds of 2014, and he served notice in his 2015 debut that he belongs among the very best of contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

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

 Because of the configuration of Gulfstream Park, the Holy Bull has a fairly short run to the first turn, and an abbreviated stretch run. By drawing post 8 of the nine runners, Upstart was in danger of being caught wide, and though he ended up three paths wide on the first turn, he was in the clear, and stalking the leaders, a comfortable position from which to perform.

 The key point in the race was the third quarter-mile, which was run in a sharp 23.67 seconds. That is where Upstart and pacesetter BLUEGRASS SINGER left their rivals, and then once turning into the stretch, Upstart left Bluegrass Singer and went on to a runaway victory while earning the fastest Beyer Speed Figure of his career.

 Upstart checks all the boxes you would want in a top Derby prospect. He is bred to handle distance, being by Flatter -- a son of A.P. Indy -- out of a Touch Gold mare, so you have Belmont Stakes winners as grandparents on both sides of that pedigree. He has enough speed to gain position early, yet can still go on with it. He has never run a bad race, now owning three wins, a second, and a third in five starts. And he is a grand-looking animal.

 Further, when I saw Upstart during the mornings at Santa Anita the week of the Breeders’ Cup, he seemed the sort to get a bit nervous, but I saw no signs of that in the paddock or post parade for the Holy Bull. He just seems to be getting better and better.

His race in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile from a bad post was his first try around two turns, and he turned in an encouraging performance that day. In the Holy Bull, he picked up right where he left off.

 FROSTED, who finished second, was able to save ground much of the way owing to his advantageous rail draw, a contrast to the situation he encountered in the Remsen, when an outside post severely compromised his chances. He was no match for the winner, but still got the best figure of his career, so he moved forward from his 2-year-old form, which is what you want to see at this time of year.

 The only quibble I would have with Frosted’s performance is that there were moments during the race, most notably turning into the stretch, when he was carrying his head high as though the spray of dirt was bothering him. If he’s going to excel in Derby preps – let alone a 20-horse Derby field – he will have to improve in that department.

 Bluegrass Singer, who finished third, set the pace while inside both First Down and Upstart, was able to stay with Upstart through that torrid third quarter-mile, and then tired from those efforts in the stretch run. If properly managed by choosing to avoid the very best of this division, he could do very, very well.

 JUAN AND BINA, who finished fourth, was extremely rank and uncomfortable going into and around the first turn while between and behind horses, but once he got outside he settled down and did as well as he could against this bunch. He tried to close on the leaders during that quick third quarter-mile while racing three paths wide. All things considered, this wasn’t a bad race at all. As with Bluegrass Singer, there will be plenty of lucrative spots for him to go after if shrewdly managed.

 Besides the top two finishers, the one I’m most interested to follow in upcoming races is KEEN ICE, who finished fifth. He broke a bit slowly, and then was curiously sent aggressively up the inside down the backstretch by jockey Edgard Zayas. After falling back when the leaders quickened entering the far turn, he rallied anew and galloped out very well. He also was late with his lead change, which happened in the Remsen, too. While Keen Ice was not a factor in this race, and was well beaten in the Breeders’ Futurity (fifth) and Remsen (third), the way he ran in this race convinces me that he would be far better suited to having his rider simply sit on him early and make one sustained run. Obviously a faster pace would suit that style. He’s by Curlin and out of an Awesome Again mare, so he has every right to improve as he gets older with Breeders’ Cup Classic winners that high up in his pedigree.

 FRAMMENTO, who finished sixth, had to check going into the first turn to avoid Juan and Bina, was caught three paths wide on that turn, but never made any impact.

 FIRST DOWN was between Bluegrass Singer and Upstart for the first five furlongs, could not keep pace when those rivals quickened during the third quarter-mile of the race, and faded to finish seventh.

 DECISION DAY, who was eighth, was caught four paths wide the whole way after starting from his outside post and stopped badly after five furlongs. This was his first start on dirt after three races on synthetic, so synthetic or turf would appear to be his future.

 HIGH NOON RIDER was never involved and was eased in upper stretch, but was reported by the Equibase chart caller to have walked off the course