Road to the Kentucky Derby: Holy Bull Stakes, Robert B. Lewis Stakes
The Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby was supposed to heat up this week with three points races. Instead, only one of the three will be offering points.
The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park awards 20 points to the winner, and 8-6-4-2 points for second through fifth place.
The Withers Stakes at Aqueduct was postponed for a week because of expected cold temperatures and high winds. The New York track rescheduled the race for Feb. 11.
The Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita offers the same points format as the Holy Bull, but drew a field of only four, with all entrants trained by Bob Baffert. With Baffert suspended from Churchill Downs and his horses ineligible to receive Derby qualifying points, the Lewis will instead offer zero points. That Baffert was the only trainer to enter a horse in the $200,000 race is bizarre, but also speaks to the size and dominance of his Southern California barn.
The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20-point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Holy Bull Stakes
Date: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023
Track: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale Beach, Florida
Distance: 1 1/16 mile
Holy Bull Stakes Analysis
While not the strongest edition of the Holy Bull — none in the field of eight has won a stakes race or accumulated any Derby points — it’s a competitive betting event.
Half of the field faced comes out of the Mucho Man Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 1, including Legacy Isle, who crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified and placed second for a late bump down the stretch (jockey Luis Saez replaces Emisael Jaramillo this time). It was a controversial call because Dreaming of Kona (placed first) was likely never going to pass Legacy Isle. Lord Miles was a late-closing third in the race, Mr. Bob fifth and Il Miracolo sixth.
Top trainers Saffie Joseph Jr. and Bill Mott each have two entries in the Holy Bull, a historically important race won by Joseph last year with White Abarrio. The top three 2022 Holy Bull Stakes finishers ran in the Kentucky Derby.
Holy Bull Stakes Selections
1. Cyclone Mischief has two victories in four career starts, including a decisive 5 3/4-length allowance race win at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 8. A repeat of that performance would be good enough to win here. Two races back, Cyclone Mischief was beaten less than three lengths in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes by Instant Coffee, who ranks No. 2 on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard.
2. With one victory and two off-the-board finishes in four starts, Rocket Can is hard to trust. In his second career start last September at Saratoga, he finished far back of Instant Coffee in a maiden race. But Rocket Can has shown significant improvement in his subsequent two starts at Churchill Downs and his speed figures make him competitive with these.
3. Legacy Isle is a tough call. If not for the disqualification in the Mucho Macho Man, he would be 3-for-3 lifetime. He set fast fractions in that race and dug in late while drifting out on a racing surface that was favorable to early speed. This is his longest race to date and will need to carry his speed a little further.
Holy Bull Stakes Betting Strategy
Win-place bets on Cyclone Mischief. For exotic wagers, key Cyclone Mischief over Rocket Can and Legacy Isle.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes
Track: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California
Date: Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023
Distance: 1 1/16 mile
Robert B. Lewis Stakes Analysis
A total of 16 horses were nominated to run in the Robert B. Lewis. Bob Baffert trains 14 of them. He entered four and will win this race for the 11th time and fifth consecutive year. In 2021, Baffert won the Lewis with Medina Spirit, who would cross the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby, but was subsequently disqualified for a drug violation, resulting in Baffert’s two-year suspension from Churchill Downs.
Baffert’s barn is so stacked with good 3-year-olds that his quartet in the Lewis doesn’t include his most promising Derby contenders, such as Arabian Knight and Cave Rock.
None of the four entrants in the Lewis have more than one career victory and Worcester is still a maiden. Newgate is the most accomplished of the four, with runner-up finishes in his last two outings, the Sham Stakes and the Bob Hope Stakes, both Grade 3 events.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes Selections
1. Worcester has yet to win in two starts, but his second-place finish in a maiden race three weeks ago earned a speed figure on par with his competition in this race. Worcester has not yet raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, but is bred to improve with longer distances. At least he’ll be a decent price.
2. In such a short field, Newgate and Arabian Lion are both likely to be sent off at even money or less. Highly-regarded Arabian Lion has been sent off a huge betting favorite in all three starts, but has just one win. He is the likely frontrunner here and may not face significant early pace pressure, but appears to have distance limitations. Prefer Newgate, who has already performed well at this distance against better competition.
Robert B. Lewis Betting Strategy
It’s hard to recommend wagering on this race. Though we don’t know who will win, with Baffert training every entry, his instructions to the four jockeys will determine how the race unfolds. If pressed to wager, would make a small win bet on Worcester, who could offer the only value in the race.
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