Edited Gulfstream Park release:
As good as he felt after watching Cairo Prince romp to a 5 ¾-length win in Saturday’s Grade II, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was just as excited after checking on his stable star Sunday morning.
Stabled at Palm Meadows, Cairo Prince gave McLaughlin every indication that the Pioneerof the Nile colt took the most lopsided Holy Bull victory in 19 years in stride.
“Cairo came out of the race great. He ate up well and is happy, sound and healthy this morning, so we’re very pleased with that,” he said. “It’s exactly what I wanted to see. That’s the key, because if they back out of the tub it’s the first indication it was a tough race on him, but he ate up everything and he’s bright and happy. He couldn’t have come out of the race better. He is perfect this morning, so that’s all we can ask for.”
In the Holy Bull, his first race since finishing a nose behind Honor Code in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, Cairo Prince raced three wide from post seven and rolled up on the early leaders at the three-eighths pole before taking command nearing the stretch and drawing away for the biggest margin of victory since Suave Prospect won by eight lengths in 1995.
It was the second graded stakes win for Cairo Prince following the Grade II Nashua on Nov. 3, and stamped him as an early leading contender on the road to the Kentucky Derby. McLaughlin has been there four times before, finishing second with Holy Bull winner Closing Argument in 2005 and fourth in 2006 with Jazil, who would go on to win the Belmont Stakes.
A native of Lexington, Ky., McLaughlin was also 14th in the 2006 Derby with Flashy Bull, and 11th with Soldat in 2011.
“There’s no question he’s the best one,” McLaughlin said of Cairo Prince, who is owned by Harvey Clarke, Craig Robertson, Paul Braverman and Namcook Stable. “We haven’t been in this position before, ever. The most important thing is he doesn’t have to improve. He doesn’t have to do anything but stay the way he is, and that’s all we hope for is for him to stay healthy and happy.”
McLaughlin said the Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 22 is the next logical spot to consider for Cairo Prince, followed by the Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.
“The next question is where do we go from here, and I don’t have an answer today,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t have to have an answer today. We’ll see how he starts training. Obviously, the Fountain of Youth is next here in the series so that’s what we’re going to look at. “This horse, he even makes me say things that I don’t normally say because I like to let the horse do the talking on the track. He’s a really, really nice horse, the kind everybody gets up early every day to come out and train. He makes our job easy.”
Fellow trainer and Lexington native Shug McGaughey saddled Mr Speaker in the Holy Bull, racing third in the early stages before fading to finish seventh behind the authoritative Cairo Prince. McGaughey said the Phipps Stable homebred would likely return to the turf, having won his previous two starts on the grass, including a rallying success in the Grade III Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream in December.
“I was a little surprised that he was up that close, but the winner was sitting right on his tail,” McGaughey pointed out. “I think at this point he’s going to be better on the grass, so we’ll go back to grass. I think the (3-year-olds) back around here are pretty good.”
McGaughey mentioned the Grade III, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes on March 1 as another target for Mr Speaker.
McGaughey is still sorting out the pecking order of his 3-year-old colts, but Top Billing stamped himself as one to watch further down the Triple Crown trail. Making only his third lifetime start in an allowance on the Holy Bull undercard, the chestnut colt caboosed the field early, but circled the field on the far turn and was hand-ridden by jockey Joel Rosario to a 2 ¾-length success over Surfing U S A. The son of Curlin was timed in 1:42.66, just a few ticks off of the track record of 1:41.73 set by River Seven in December. Top Billing earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure for his performance.
“I’m not sure who was behind him,” McGaughey offered. “On paper it looked maybe better than it was, but for him to get back and make a run like that…he was an easy winner. I was impressed with him.”
Top Billing will almost certainly find himself in stakes company next time, but it is unlikely that he would face off with highly regarded stablemate Honor Code in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in four weeks’ time.
“I’ll have to see how he comes out of it and I’ll speak to (owner) Mr. Farish the first of the week,” McGaughey said. “I’ll figure out what he wants to do and how much pressure he wants to put on him.”
Racing for the partnership of breeders William S. Farish and E.J. Hudson Jr., Top Billing has now won two of three career appearances and $56,835. In his previous start, the 3-year-old lost a narrow decision to Commissioner—a highly regarded colt from the Todd Pletcher barn—in a Gulfstream allowance on January 3.