The Kentucky Derby (G1) is less than 100 days away and this weekend at tracks throughout the U.S. many Derby dreamers compete in some early stepping-stone stakes races.

Most notable of these is the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on February 3 which has lured the 2023 Eclipse Award Champion two-year-old colt (#7) FIERCENESS, owned and bred by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher. The son of City Light, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 3 by 6 1/4 lengths with a whopping 105 Beyer Speed Figure, is a paltry 3-to-5 in the morning line odds.

The Holy Bull, at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt, has lured a field of eight, although (#5) No More Time is expected to be scratched for the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 10.


Betting on a horse simply because of reputation or accolades is rarely a good wager, especially at low odds. The value simply is not there. Let’s take a closer look at the Holy Bull, which is race 12 at Gulfstream (post time 5:45 p.m. EST) on Saturday:

In recent years, an American two-year-old champion has done very well when returning as a more mature three-year-old. Six of the last 13 champions won their sophomore debut and the majority of those champions had completed their two-year-old campaign with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Pletcher, who has trained three juvenile champions, sent out two of them, Forte (2022) and Uncle Mo (2010), to win their first races as three-year-olds while the other, Shanghai Bobby (2012) finished second, coincidentally in the Holy Bull.

Pletcher explained to Gulfstream media about the choice to start Fierceness in the Holy Bull. “He came out of the Breeders’ Cup really well, so we brought him down here and were trying to come up with the best game plan of how we can get him ready hopefully for the Florida Derby and Churchill. We felt like by using the Holy Bull as the stepping-stone to the Florida Derby that we could give him a little bit of a freshening after the Breeders’ Cup but not have to let him completely down,” said Pletcher, who will bypass the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) March 2 with Fierceness.

“Knock on wood, everything’s gone according to plan so far and hopefully continues to go that way. He’s had some super breezes leading up to this, and we’re super excited about getting him started.”

One of Fierceness’ recent workouts was a bullet five furlong move at Palm Beach Downs on Jan. 20 in 59.40.


Fierceness has won sprinting in addition to his Breeders’ Cup win and possesses natural speed in addition to stamina. There is not an entrant in the Holy Bull who can match the speed of the favourite. One entrant who could play a part early in the race is the undefeated (#1) HADES, who won a Florida-bred allowance race at seven furlongs on Dec. 31 by eight lengths after a pace battle. Paco Lopez, known for his aggressive riding style, is aboard Hades, who posted an 84 Beyer Figure in that victory.

Only two other Holy Bull starters, Inveigled and Otello, have posted Beyer Figures in the 80s at a route distance.


While Fierceness has been away from the races since early November, Otello has the benefits of a victory in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 1 for trainer Christophe Clement. The son of Curlin had won his career debut at Aqueduct in New York with an 80 Beyer Figure and remained undefeated with this visually impressive Gulfstream win. In that race, Otello was several lengths behind a slow opening quarter mile (24.20). While jockey Luis Saez gave Otello a ground-saving journey in the one mile race, traffic in front of the pair delayed Otello’s ability to make a bid. When he finally got clear with just a furlong to race, Otello split horses and flew to a half-length victory and posted a 76 Beyer.

Inveigled, who finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Otello in the Mucho Macho Man, also had some traffic trouble in that race and ended up having to angle out wide for the stretch run. It should be noted that champion jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won five races on the Pegasus World Cup card, is on board Inveigled.

Handicapping Angles from bet365!

How can a horseplayer make some money on the Holy Bull with such a strong favourite appearing to be the likely winner? The race is the final leg of the Rainbow Six, late Pick 5 and late Pick 4 and keying Fierceness in any of those wagers makes sense. But if you just want to play the Holy Bull, consider these possible bets:

$20 exacta 7 – 3 $20.00
$5 trifecta 3, 7, – 1, 3, 7 – 1, 3, 7 – $20.00
$1 Late Pick 4 (starts on race 9): 2, 4, 6, 7 / 6, 7 / 4 / 7 = $8.00

Year – Champion 2-year-old / Trainer / 3-year-old debut

2022 – Forte / Todd Pletcher / Won Fountain of Youth
2021 – Corniche / Bob Baffert / 9th Saratoga
2020 – Essential Quality / Kieran McLaughlin / Won Southwest Stakes
2019 – Storm the Court / Peter Eurton / 4th San Vicente
2018 – Game Winner / Bob Baffert / 2nd Rebel Stakes
2017 – Good Magic / Chad Brown / 3rd Fountain of Youth
2016 – Classic Empire / Mark Casse / 3rd Holy Bull
2015 – Nyquist / Doug O’Neill / Won San Vicente
2014 – American Pharoah / Bob Baffert / Won Rebel Stake
2013 – Shared Belief / J. Hollendorfer / Won allowance
2012 – Shanghai Bobby / Todd Pletcher / 2nd Holy Bull
2011 – Hansen / Mike Maker / 2nd Holy Bull
2010 – Uncle Mo / Todd Pletcher / Won Timely Writer