GREATEST HONOUR ROMPS IN HOLY BULL
Courtlandt Farm’s Greatest Honour swept to the lead on the turn into the Gulfstream Park homestretch and drew off to a 5 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Holy Bull, establishing himself as a prime prospect for the 2021 Triple Crown.
The Holy Bull, a 1 1/16-mile prep on the Road to the Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n Dale at Xalapa, headlined a 12-race program featuring five graded stakes.
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Greatest Honour gave trainer Shug McGaughey his first Holy Bull victory on a Hall of Fame resume that includes Orb’s victories in the 2014 Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). Orb went on to give McGaughey his first Kentucky Derby success.
The 5-2 second choice in a field of nine 3-year-olds, Greatest Honour rated near the back of the field while racing on the outside along the backstretch as Willy Boi set the pace, pressed by Tarantino and closely stalked by even-money favorite Prime Factor. Willy Boi set fractions of 23.28 and 46.97 seconds for the first half mile with Tarantino in close attendance as Greatest Honour steadily advanced along the outside. Jose Ortiz asked the McGaughey trainee for some run on the far turn, and the son of Tapit responded with a eye-catching kick that quickly carried him to the front of the pack leaving he turn into the stretch, leaving Tarantino and Prime Factor to fight it out for the minor placings.
Greatest Honour, who broke his maiden at the 1 1/16-mile distance in his fourth career start at Gulfstream Dec. 26, went on to win comfortably, completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.19.
“We had a clean trip. He broke fine and Jose got him over a little bit to save ground. I thought we were in good position when we turned down the backside. When he was in that kind of position, I knew they were going to have a hard time with him, because he’s going to finish better than he starts,” McGaughey said. “Jose said, ‘At the half-mile pole, I asked him a tad, he was there.’ When he really asked him, he said that he finished up very strong. He picked up his horses quick today. He was a winner early today.”
Tarantino, who was a nose away from being undefeated in three starts on turf, held gamely under Edgard Zayas to finish second in his dirt debut, 3 ¾ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Prime Factor.
Greatest Honour finished a late-closing third while sprinting in his first two career starts, before stretching out two turns at Aqueduct Nov. 8 to finish second, beaten by just a head by Known Agenda, who went on to finish third in the Remsen (G2). The Courtlandt Farms homebred broke through to graduate at Gulfstream in his next start.
“He was kind of a big clown and did what he wanted to do all summer. We got him ready to run at Saratoga. Sprinting wasn’t going to be his bag, but I think those two sprint races sort of helped him to learn and learn how to finish,” McGaughey said. “We took him over to Aqueduct and he had a big race there and just got beat. He came here and his two races here have been very good. The distances helped too – two turns. I think the farther we go, the better.”
Ortiz, who had ridden Greatest Honour in his first two starts, was impressed with the progress the Kentucky-bred colt has made since the summer.
“He broke well today. I was able to have a clean run to the first turn. He sat pretty nicely. He wanted to back up a little and I tapped him on the shoulder, and he picked me up and he took me on a great ride,” Ortiz said. “I was really, really happy going to the five-eighths [pole]. I was following Prime Factor and I was just on the inside of him. Luckily, I didn’t have to fight for any position. I was just able to take it. Honestly, when I put myself four-wide in the clear, I showed him the whip one time and from that point I knew I was going to have a really, really good shot to win. When we got to the quarter pole, I knew I had it.”
“He took the lead and went on. I still had plenty of horse underneath me. He was playing. From the three-sixteenths [pole] to the wire, he didn’t give me his 100 percent. He was just playing around,” he added.
The $300,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) Feb. 27 at Gulfstream has been on McGaughey’s radar.
“It’s what I’ve had on my mind. I’m not going to leave Florida unless I’m forced to,” he said. “I won’t have any trouble having him ready for the Florida Derby if I don’t want to run him there.”
Meanwhile, in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park, Medina Spirit posted a narrow front-running score to earn 10 Derby points. With Abel Cedillo up, Medina Spirit went right to the front and held on to win by a neck over the rallying Roman Centurian, who was a nose better than Hot Rod Charlie.
The Florida-bred Protonico colt is trained by two-time Triple Crown-winning conditioner Bob Baffert for Gail Rice. He has won two of three career starts.