November 23, 2009

Remembering ... Holy Bull

The first time I saw Holy Bull in person was the 1993 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park. I made the foolish mistake of being there to root on a different horse. At the Saratoga meeting I had fallen in love with a talented juvenile named Dehere, who had demonstrated the qualities of a freight train rolling down the lane and mowing down his competition. I knew Dehere’s main threat in the Futurity was Holy Bull and there was plenty of reason for me to be infatuated with him. He had won both of his starts impressively for a trainer I liked, Jimmy Croll, and he began his career at my home track, Monmouth Park. None of that mattered though, I was there to see Dehere. Dehere actually ran an excellent race as he gained the entire stretch, but the race was controlled by the gray speedster. Taking it to his rivals early, Holy Bull was never in danger of being caught in the Grade 1 race. I went home that day thinking that I had just seen the best two juveniles in the nation. Holy Bull would finish his juvenile season unbeaten, making it 4 for 4 with a romping win in the In Reality Stakes at Calder.

Holy Bull was bred by Mrs. Rachel Carpenter of Pelican Stable. Sired by Great Above out of the Al Hattab mare Sharon Brown, he caught the attention of Jimmy Croll early on and when Mrs. Carpenter passed away leaving her whole string of horses to Croll, he sold all the horses except for Holy Bull. It was a wonderful tribute to their working relationship and friendship, for the matriarch of Pelican Stable to bequeath all of her valuable bloodstock to her trainer and it was a bold move by Croll to keep only one of the 19 horses. He kept the right horse.

Holy Bull continued his winning ways at three when he won eight stakes out of ten starts, five of them being Grade 1 affairs. The season began in Florida, where he powered to easy victories in the Hutcheson and Florida Derby. In between those two races, Holy Bull ran a poor race in the Fountain of Youth, but the defeat was easily explained, as during the race he flipped his palate, restricting his air flow. From Florida, Holy Bull headed straight for the Bluegrass State with Derby dreams. An easy win in the Blue Grass Stakes confirmed his favoritism for the first Saturday in May. In the Kentucky Derby, however, he seemed uninterested and finished a well beaten 12th. Jimmy Croll believed that there was foul play afoot. Claiming that his horse had been drugged by an evil doer, effectively keeping the heavy favorite off the board. His claim was never proven.

Holy Bull quickly rebounded, as he ran away from top older horses Devil His Due and Cherokee Run in Belmont’s prestigious Met Mile just three weeks after the Derby debacle. This win started a streak that would propel Holy Bull to superstar status. Easy wins in the Dwyer and then the Haskell followed. In the Travers, he displayed great courage and determination as he held off the distance loving Concern, who would later that year win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, despite being pressured through fast early fractions. His next race would be the season’s final test and it was against older. I was in the stands for his final race of the year, the Woodward. It was one year after I had seen him defeat Dehere in the Futurity and this time I was there to see the gray star, and I was not disappointed. It was one of those rare races when I believed I was truly watching greatness. Holy Bull effortlessly made mincemeat of one of the top fields assembled that year. With his devastating five-length victory over Devil His Due and Colonial Affair, he ended any conjecture as to who was the best horse in the country. Holy Bull capped of the year with Eclipse Awards as the champion 3-year-old colt and Horse of the Year of 1994.

After his marvelous campaign at three, it seemed that Holy Bull would have the rest of the racing world at his mercy the following year. He began the year by summarily dispatching top sprinters in the Olympic Handicap at Gulfstream. His next race was the 1995 Donn Handicap. Holly Bull put himself into a perfect position early in the Grade 1 race. Watching from a simulcast television at the Meadowlands, I soon had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as on the backstretch, the star horse was injured and pulled up by his regular rider Mike Smith. It was a sudden and sad ending to his career. Holy Bull was retired. His competition that day, Cigar, gracefully took the baton and went on to be a great champion. As great as Cigar became, you can not convince this writer that he would have beaten the Bull that day.

Holy Bull was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2001. In all, the fantastic horse won 13 out of 16 races. In the three races he lost, he flipped his palate, was possibly drugged, and he was injured. He stood at stud first at Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Kentucky and now at Darley Stud’s American division. He has sired a champion in Macho Uno and a Derby winner in Giacomo, but none of his offspring have been the kind of racehorse that he was. I remember you Holy Bull.


Handride said...

very mid-late 80's chicago bull vibe you got going here. I LIKE IT>!

Anonymous said...

I saw him in the Met Mile. What an awesome performance by an awesome horse. Too bad he did not get a chance to beat up on Cigar.


jb said...

Funny one of the few horses to not run in the BC Classic and still be named Horse of the year. Oh I forgot the BC was runned at Churchill Downs, where Holy Bull put in his worse proformance ever. But too bad ya could of put a line thru that!

Anonymous said...

He is mentioned as one to contribute durability, pedigree expert Ellen Parker thinks son Giacomo holds promise as a stallion. Maybe this year's surprise, another Birdstone success story perhaps.

Storytellers like you make racing live forever.