Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Holy Bull Stakes Winners

Holy Bull Stakes Gulfstream Park Kentucky Derby Barbaro Go for Gin Tiz the Law Itsmyluckyday Hal’s Hope Zito Matz Sackatoga Tagg Plesa Bailey Lael Stable Harold Rose horse racing history
Barbaro, above winning the 2006 Holy Bull Stakes in his first start on the main track, would go on to a dominant win in the Kentucky Derby. (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

Gulfstream Park’s road to the 2024 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 compete 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


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


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.

BARBARO (2006)

CAREER RECORD: 7 starts – 6 wins, 0 seconds, 0 thirds


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


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


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 during the spring and summer of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the racing calendar. He won the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, and the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes heading into a rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in Septemer, and he became the first Holy Bull winner to win both the Belmont Stakes and Travers. Sent off at odds of 7-10 in the Kentucky Derby, the heaviest favorite since Spectacular Bid in 1980, Tiz the Law finished second to Authentic.


CAREER RECORD: 15 starts – 7 wins, 1 second, 3 thirds


White Abarrio after 2022 Holy Bull victory (Eclipse Sportswire)

White Abarrio flashed potential during his 2-year-old season as he started his career with back-to-back runaway victories, rallying to a 6 ¾-length romp in his career debut and then leading from start to finish in a four-length score in his second start. He closed his juvenile campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in his first try against stakes competition for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.

The gray or roan colt by Race Day made his first start as a 3-year-old in the Holy Bull Stakes and announced his presence on the 2022 Kentucky Derby trail with authority. He opened a commanding lead in the stretch under new rider Tyler Gaffalione and powered to a 4 ½-length victory at 6-1 odds.

White Abarrio followed with another clear win in the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa and was one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. But while Rich Strike shocked the world at 80.80-1 odds on May 7, 2022, White Abarrio was never much of a factor and finished 16th of 20.

White Abarrio did not win again in 2022 – he finished second in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby and third by a half-length in the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented by NYRA Bets – but he regained his elite form as a 4-year-old in 2023 after he was transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. . White Abarrio won the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes by six lengths in August and followed with a one-length win in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic in a season in which he won three of five starts and was a finalist for Horse of the Year. Plans call for him to remain in training in 2024 for the partnership of C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable.

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