Gulfstream Park’s road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve begins this Saturday with the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. The race will offer 20 qualifying points to the winner as top 3-year-olds looking to accumulate points and earn a place in the Derby starting gate.
Inaugurated in 1990 as the Preview Stakes, the race was re-named in honor of 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull in 1996. It has been run at a variety of distances, settling in at its current 1 1/16 miles since 2013. The race was run as a Grade 3 for the first time in 1996.
Here, we’ll take a look back at some of the best horses to win the Holy Bull.
GO FOR GIN (1994)
CAREER RECORD: 19 starts – 5 wins, 7 seconds, 2 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,380,866
This Nick Zito trainee was in fine form going into the 1994 Preview Stakes. He won two stakes at Aqueduct that fall, including the Remsen Stakes, and looked like one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites. In a field of six, Go for Gin was sent off as the 7-10 favorite.
He won like an odds-on favorite should, stalking the pace and drawing off for a 3 ½-length victory. That win gave Jerry Bailey his third victory in the Preview; he would go on to win the race five times.
That race proved to be the highlight for Go for Gin from his prep races on the Derby trail. He was second behind champion 2-year-old male Dehere in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, fourth behind none other than Holy Bull in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and second in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes. By the time the first Saturday in May rolled around, Bailey had jumped ship, replaced by Chris McCarron, and Go for Gin was the 9.10-1 fifth choice in the 14-horse Derby field.
Those who kept the faith were rewarded, as Go for Gin took control of the race early on and pulled away to win by two lengths. It marked the second Derby win for both Zito and McCarron. Go for Gin subsequently finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Holy Bull was the 1994 Kentucky Derby favorite but finished 12th after a bad break. He got the last laugh, however. While Go for Gin didn’t win a race the rest of the year, Holy Bull rattled off five straight graded stakes wins en route to a Horse of the Year title.
HAL’S HOPE (2000)
CAREER RECORD: 33 starts – 9 wins, 5 seconds, 3 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,098,422
Hal’s Hope looked like the furthest thing from a Derby prospect going into the 2000 Holy Bull Stakes. His owner, trainer, and breeder, Harold Rose, was an 87-year-old who operated a modest stable year-round in South Florida. Jockey Roger Velez was a recovering alcoholic and stroke survivor.
Hal’s Hope concluded his 2-year-old season with a win against allowance company at Calder Race Course in December, but most bettors considered him outclassed in the Holy Bull. He was a 40.20-1 outsider in the 11-horse field. When Velez sent him to the front and opened up a clear lead almost everyone expected him to fade.
As it turned out, Hal’s Hope just kept going. He crushed the field by 5 ¼ lengths, finishing more than 11 lengths clear of heavy favorite Greenwood Lake.
Hal’s Hope had some more magic up his sleeve on the Derby trail. He finished second in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes behind highly touted Wayne Lukas trainee High Yield. Lukas’ High Yield was the even-money favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, while Hal’s Hope was the 6.90-1 fourth choice.
After a long, tenacious battle in the stretch, Hal’s Hope turned the tables on High Yield. He won by a head, cementing his status as the underdog story of that year’s Derby trail.
Although he couldn’t deliver the Hollywood ending in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 16th, Hal’s Hope went on to have a productive career. He was a two-time stakes winner as a 4-year-old and won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap at age 5.
CAREER RECORD: 7 starts – 6 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,302,200
Although he became best-known for his exploits on dirt, Barbaro started off his career a perfect 3-for-3 on the grass. Trainer Michael Matz decided to try him on the Derby trail and entered him in the Holy Bull for his first dirt race.
Barbaro enjoyed a good stalking trip off pacesetting Doctor Diehard before challenging him on the final turn. He wrested away control entering the stretch, then encountered fresh challenges from Flashy Bull and Great Song. Undaunted, he splashed past the finish line on a wet track three-quarters of a length in front.
In his next start, Barbaro won the Grade 1 Florida Derby by a half-length with a similar trip. He gave racing fans the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in his next two starts as he rolled to a dominant win in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby before suffering a severe injury in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. Although he fought valiantly in recovery, he developed acute laminitis in July of 2006 and was euthanized in January 2007. Barbaro is memorialized with a statue at the main entrance of Churchill Downs.
CAREER RECORD: 21 starts – 9 wins, 4 seconds, 2 thirds
CAREER EARNINGS: $1,706,350
Itsmyluckyday was already a three-time stakes winner by the time of the 2013 Holy Bull Stakes. He entered the race off a 6 ¾-length win in the Gulfstream Park Derby. On the strength of that victory, this Eddie Plesa trainee was sent off as the 4.70-1 third choice in the Holy Bull. Shanghai Bobby, the 2012 Eclipse Award winner as champion 2-year-old male, was the even-money favorite. However, it was Itsmyluckyday’s day. He rated off pacesetting Shanghai Bobby then wore him down in the stretch to win by two lengths. He followed with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, establishing him as a bona-fide Derby contender.
Although he finished 15th on the first Saturday in May, he bounced back with a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. As a 4-year-old, Itsmyluckyday won four stakes races, including the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes.
TIZ THE LAW (2020)
CAREER RECORD: 9 starts – 6 wins, 1 second, 1 third
CAREER EARNINGS: $2,735,300
After his win in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes in October 2019 at Belmont Park, New York-bred Tiz the Law popped up on many Kentucky Derby top 10 lists. In 2003, the owner-trainer combination of Sackatoga Stable and Barclay Tagg teamed up to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide. Nearly two decades later, it looked like they had a big chance to win the Derby again.
Tiz the Law made his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull and was the 13-10 favorite in a field of seven. He lived up to the hype, rating off the pace and drawing away for a three-length win. In his victory, he avenged the defeat of Funny Cide in the same race 17 years prior.
Following his Holy Bull win, Tiz the Law went on a tear, winning the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, and the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes. He became the first Holy Bull winner to win either of the latter two races. Sent off at 9-10 in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the biggest favorite in that race since Arazi in 1992, Tiz the Law finished second to Authentic.