Inside The Trip: 3-Year-Olds at Gulfstream


Cairo Prince's Holy Bull victory has people dreaming of the first Saturday in May (Photo courtesy of Coglinese Photos).

If you’ve been anywhere impacted by the various polar vortices this winter, it was easy to turn an eye to Gulfstream Park last weekend, see two 1 1/16-mile races for three-year-olds, and dream about where they might be running come the first Saturday in May. Let’s get some of the basics out of the way.

Top Billing, second with a troubled-trip in an early January run at Gulfstream highlighted in our previous blog, ran down Surfing U S A to win a first-level allowance event in Saturday’s fourth race. Coming from well off the pace, Top Billing covered 35 feet more than Surfing U S A in hooking that rival, and drawing away. Overall, he covered 5,699 feet, averaging 37.9 MPH, running the 8.5 furlongs in 1:42.66.

Saturday’s feature saw Kiaran McLaughlin-trainee Cairo Prince chase the pace from a three-wide trip and draw well clear, winning the Holy Bull Stakes by almost six lengths, doing it 0.50 seconds faster than Top Billing, stopping the clock in 1:42.16. The son of Pioneerof the Nile covered 5,721 feet, 22 more than Top Billing, and he averaged 38.2 MPH.

Perhaps it was daydreams of many viewing from afar, longing for a spring afternoon in Louisville, but we offer a caution. A concentrated comparison of data from these two performances could be troublesome.

In a pre-race interview on the Gulfstream simulcast signal, McLaughlin made it known that his hope was for Cairo Prince to race wide and in the clear. Did this colt cover an exorbitant amount of ground by choice, or by chance? Pretty clearly, it was choice. Even after the race, McLaughlin noted that he had no concern for the pace, as long as Cairo Prince was kept outside. Sure enough, Luis Saez rode to perfect instruction. Three wide around the first turn, then angled-out to go four-wide down the backstretch and around the far-turn, Cairo Prince never had a horse directly in front of him.

When discussing trips, we often remind that some horses are purposely ridden with the intent to cover extra ground. Was Cairo Prince that much better than Top Billing because of the extra 22 feet he covered? Take note of the individual sectional times from each of the two races. Cairo Prince had a faster pace early and slowed late, while Top Billing ran into a slower pace and was quicker than Cairo Prince in the late stages.

The delineation of these sectional times is noteworthy in the abstract, but hardly revealing as to which one was “better.” There are plenty of speed and pace ratings available in the marketplace to assist in providing some immediate opinions from these races alone. How these two perform going forward, what data is gleaned from future races and performances, especially over the same Gulfstream surface, can be compared to this initial data.

Cairo Prince’s trip, in particular, reminded us most of last year’s Derby victor Orb, given his penchant for covering extra ground. Orb covered what was essentially the widest trip in each of his three wins at Gulfstream Park last year, leading up to the Derby. His style and progress over those races gave us the impression that he was a horse who needed to be kept away from the rail and in the clear, a trip that was replicated in the Kentucky Derby itself. In four lifetime races, Cairo Prince has never had a horse directly in front of him, and has raced exclusively off the rail with the exception of the latter stages of his maiden win when well clear and taken to the inside. How he’ll take to it when forced into that position is anyone’s guess, but it’s worth noting at this early stage, and with the hype train in full force.

Diversy Harbor impresses on debut

Did you happen to catch Diversy Harbor’s career debut in Santa Anita’s sixth race from Sunday? Last, almost nine lengths back with just more than a quarter-mile to run, the daughter of Curlin looked beaten. Gary Stevens shifted her outside, across the back of a full field of rivals, and exploded through the stretch to win by nearly three lengths in nothing more than a hand ride. Her final furlong was recorded by Trakus in 11.28 seconds, matching the last eighth of Lakerville, who won the Clocker’s Corner Stakes over the same trip just two races later. A half-sister to graded stakes winners Keertana and Snow Top Mountain, the future seems bright for the filly owned by Glen Hill Farm. 

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