Derby Preps Primer: Holy Bull Stakes

By Margaret Ransom

Tiz the Law – Photo courtesy of WinStar Farm.

And on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) we go. Saturday marks the 31st running of the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the south Florida oval’s first major prep in the run up to the first Saturday in May for the opening leg of the Triple Crown.

The 1 1/16-mile main track test offers Road to the Derby points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale, which as of now even a second-place finish could put a runner in the hunt to make the gate to Run for the Roses.

Holy Bull, a son of Great Above and the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown, was 1994’s Horse of the Year after a spectacular 3-year-old season that included wins in the Hutcheson Stakes, Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes on the road to the Derby. He finished an uncharacteristic 12th under the Twin Spires in what was a hotly debated topic about whether or not he was drugged, so much so that even his owner/trainer Jimmy Croll believed it due to the horse’s unusual performance.

Holy Bull Horse

Holy Bull at Jonabell Farm – Photo Courtesy of

Fortunately, his Derby run did not define his career as he went on to win the Met Mile, Dwyer Stakes, Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes, and Woodward Stakes. He was also 1994’s champion 3-year-old. To racing fans, Holy Bull is one of the great grays of all time and joined a club that includes other notable grays like Native Dancer, Spectacular Bid, Winning Colors, Princess Rooney and Lady’s Secret. He stood a lengthy stud career at Darley at Jonabell in Kentucky, where he was a standout sire and was represented by names like Confessional, Macho Uno and Giacomo. He also is the broodmare sire to many top notch runners. He was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2001 and died 2 ½ years ago at the age of 26 at Jonabell, where he spent his entire post-race life. Since it was first contested in 1991 as the Preview Stakes (and renamed in 1996 for the 1994 winner), the Holy Bull has seen some good horses reach the winner’s circle, including Derby winners Go For Gin (1994) and Barbaro (2006). Other recognizable names to have won the race, which has been contested at various distances from a mile to 1 3/16ths miles, include Hal’s Hope, Offlee Wild, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Dialed In, Irish War Cry, Audible and upset winner Harvey Wallbanger a year ago. It is the traditional prep for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), set for Feb. 29.

Nicholas Zito – Photo Courtesy of

Hall of Famer Nick Zito has saddled the most Holy Bull winners with three (Go For Gin, 1994; Suave Prospect, 1995; and Dialed In, 2011) while retired Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey has ridden five winners, the most recent 21 years ago aboard Cape Town.

On Saturday, a field of seven is expected to go postward, most of them looking for their first Derby points,

The South Florida weather is set to be warm and humid with rain and thunderstorms likely in the afternoon. The Holy Bull is the 11th race with a post time of 5:04 p.m. ET.

The field, with jockeys and trainers:

Holy Bull Stakes Contenders
PP Horse Jockey Trainer
1 Toledo Irad Ortiz, Jr. Chad Brown
2 Uncork the Bottle Edgard Zayas Saffie Joseph, Jr.
3 Tiz the Law Manny Franco Barclay Tagg
4 Ete Indien Luca Panici Patrick Biancone
5 Clear Destination Paco Lopez Ashlee Brnjas
6 Relentless Dancer Jose Ortiz Mike Maker
7 Mayberry Deputy Julien Leparoux Ken McPeek
Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.