Kentucky Derby Report: Mott strikes in Holy Bull, sends contenders to Sam Davis, Withers

February 9th, 2023

Rocket Can opened his three-year-old season with a rallying win in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park. A maiden winner at Churchill Downs two starts previously, the Into Mischief colt concluded his juvenile season with a runner-up allowance effort to Confidence Game, who opened 2023 with a third in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds.

Rocket Can prevailed by nearly a length as the 5-2 second choice among eight runners in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, which awarded points on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale to the top five as a Kentucky Derby qualifier.

He overcame a wide trip to win, but Rocket Can will need to improve upon a dismal 93 Brisnet Speed rating. A case can be made that he’s early in his development, and his Speed ratings will rise accordingly, but it’s difficult to get excited about a slow race.

Mott, who won the 2020 Kentucky Derby via disqualification with Country House, also saddled the Holy Bull runner-up, 34-1 Shadow Dragon, who was making his third career start following a well-beaten sixth versus New York-bred rivals in the Sleepy Hollow S. in late October. We’ll see if the Army Mule colt can back up the surprising result next time.

Cyclone Mischief never fired as the 6-5 favorite, checking in a well-beaten seventh. Dale Romans had no excuse, and said the colt will get another shot at a qualifier, but Cyclone Mischief’s best races have come at one-turn distances.

Rocket Can made his stakes debut in the Holy Bull, and Mott has a pair of first-time stakes runners entered for this weekend’s Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers at Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs.

Jungfrau, who was elevated to first via disqualification in a Dec. 31 maiden special weight at Gulfstream, is listed at 4-1 for the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. Classic Legacy, who rolled to a 3 1/2-length maiden tally at Aqueduct in early December, will stretch to two turns in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa. The half-brother to recent Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Art Collector has been pegged at 12-1 on the morning line.

Notable performances

Tapit Trice appeared to be entered in the wrong race, winning a one-mile allowance on the Holy Bull undercard by a widening eight-length margin. The $1.3 million yearling purchase probably would have rolled in the Holy Bull – Tapit Trice earned the top Brisnet Speed rating (99) on Gulfstream’s main track last week – and it will be exciting to see the gray son of Tapit make his stakes debut for Todd Pletcher next time.

The Feb. 4 Robert B. Lewis (G3) didn’t award any Derby qualifying points – all four starters are trained by Bob Baffert – and I came away impressed by Newgate, who has clearly improved in a pair of starts this season. Headstrong as a juvenile, the $850,000 son of Into Mischief has learned to rate with Frankie Dettori, rallying last-to-first in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis, and Newgate registered commendable Speed (100) and Late Pace (106) numbers for the neck triumph.

Weekend preview

I gave both Mott runners serious consideration, but will go a different direction in the Sam Davis and Withers.

#6 Ninetyprcentmaddie (8-1) didn’t appreciate being inside in his last two starts, offering his best foot when clear, and I like the outside draw in the Withers. He is tied for the top Speed rating (94) in the seven-horse field, and I’ll tab the Butch Reid-trained colt on the front end.

Saffie Joseph used a pair of two-turn races at Tampa this winter, and #2 Prairie Hawk (6-1) impressed breaking his maiden and winning an entry-level allowance convincingly. The latter effort came back fast, and the Curlin colt should receive a favorable ground-saving trip before offering his best in the Sam Davis. His half-brother, Quip, won the 2018 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) by a length, and Prairie Hawk also appears to love the Tampa track.