Road To The Triple Crown Goes To Florida On Sunday

The Road To The Triple Crown continues here at TheSportsNotebook this weekend, as hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby show up in sunny Florida at Gulfstream Park for Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes (4:45 PM ET). Unlike last week’s Lecomte Stakes, which got the road to Churchill Downs started in earnest, the Holy Bull won’t be a hotly contested race. While the Lecomte drew 13 entries, the Holy Bull has only 6, and that’s had the predictable depressive effect on the odds.

Hansen is the favorite, posted at 6-5 on the morning line. The favorite is ridden by Ramon Dominguez, a jockey whose enjoyed tremendous success riding on the New York circuit  and trained by Mike Maker, whose made his living on the SoCal trail. The two came together on this horse at last year’s Breeders’ Cup when Hansen won the BC Juvenile for two-year olds, and is now poised for what has a shot to be a ticket to the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

The favorite will be challenged by the brothers, Algorithms (5-2) and Consortium (3-1). Both were sired by Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes, so in a sport where lineage is revered even more than in Elizabethan England, these horses will get some love from bettors. They’ve gone head-to-head before, back in mid-December here at Gulfstream, with Algorithm winning by a nose. The latter horse is trained by Todd Pletcher, one of the nation’s best and ridden by Javier Castellano, another top New York jockey. Consortium, in spite of his Kentucky breeding, has a Big Apple tie as well, with the combo of jockey John Velazquez and trainer Kieran McLaughlin.

With a short field, it means that those who like to bet won’t find much to their liking here, but if you want a good horse race it still promises entertainment. Gulfstream is one of two tracks (SoCal’s Santa Anita being the other) that become the focal point of the racing world through February, for reasons I trust are obvious. In fact, Saturday both tracks host the Sunshine Millions, a series of six races, three at each track, that provides a coming-out party for two-year old horses, the first chance for young ponies to do anything notable before the Breeders Cup in November.

The Holy Bull is one of three big Derby Prep races that Gulfstream hosts over the coming month, with each one escalating in importance, and ending with the Florida Derby, a race considered a reliable bellwether for the Triple Crown. Sunday’s isn’t that big, but with a $400,000 purse it offers enough to make it worthwhile for horses looking to pick up enough earnings to qualify for Churchill Downs.

You can catch the race on TVG or HRTV, a channel that can be found amidst the other sports channel listings on your cable/satellite package. Post time will fall about halftime of the Bulls-Heat game, so it’s an easy and fun way to kill a couple minutes and see if Hansen can hold off the field. My guess is that he does it.

Lecomte Stakes: Mr. Bowling (Robby Albarado/Larry Jones/$9.20)

*Price is based on the return off a $2 bet.