Champion Fierceness Fades To Third As Hades Steals Holy Bull On Front End
Repole Stable’s Fierceness was an imposing favorite to win Saturday’s $250,000 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park, but D J Stable LLC and Robert Cotran’s Hades was hardly intimidated by the 2023 Eclipse Award-winning juvenile.
Undefeated in two prior starts, Hades took it to the champion and his six other rivals right from the start of the 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds, breaking alertly to go to the front and never looking back to register a 6-1 upset victory. He paid $14.60 for the win.
The 35th running of the Holy Bull, a prep for the March 30 Curlin Florida Derby (G1), headlined Saturday’s 12-race program with five stakes for 3-year-olds, including four graded stakes. The Holy Bull also offered qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby, with 20-10-6-4-2 going to the top five finishers.
Joe Orseno-trained Hades withstood pressure from Inveigled early and Fierceness late but still had enough in reserve in the stretch to kick away from the 1-5 favorite, who faded to third. Late-running Domestic Product finished second, two lengths behind the winner and 1 ½ lengths ahead of Fierceness.
“The plan was to go to the lead, but if somebody was pushing him, he was going to rate him. It looked like he started to do that when that one horse went up to him, and then Paco had to go. He knew it,” Orseno said. “When the horse accelerates, he’s just got another gear at the top of the stretch. He showed it to us last time. Of course, a champion eyeballs him and he dug in and took off. He ran away from a very good horse. It was our day today. We’ll see next time, but right now we’ll enjoy the moment.”
Fierceness broke with the field from his No. 7 post and was outsprinted to the lead by Hades and Inveigled while racing in traffic. Hades cut the corner from his rail post position to show the way heading into the backstretch, as Fierceness worked his way clear of traffic to sit third on the outside of Inveigled past fractions of 25:03 and 50.53 for a half mile. John Velazquez sent Fierceness after the pacesetter and the two entered the stretch head-and head, but the Todd Pletcher-trained champion shortened stride as Hades kicked away under Paco Lopez.
“He didn’t get off to a very good start. The inside horse bumped him pretty good and then he got sandwiched and kind of had to shove him into the race and try to get the position we wanted, which we eventually did. But, he had to overcome a pretty rough start to get there,” Pletcher said. “It seemed like he got into a good rhythm and straightened away for home and just kind of flattened out a little bit. I’m disappointed in the outcome. I think if you watch the replay of the start, it was a pretty rough start, kind of similar to what happened in the Champagne. If he doesn’t get away well, he doesn’t get into the flow of the race the same way.”
Fierceness was coming off a dominating 6 ¼-length victory in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita. The son of City of Light had scored an 11 ¼-length debut score over a pair of next-out winners on a muddy Saratoga track Aug. 25 before finishing off the board following a troubled start in the Oct. 7 Champagne on a sloppy Aqueduct surface.
“The way he broke out of there, he kind of broke a step slow and got bounced out of there. I had to put him into the race and then sat against him on the backstretch,” Velazquez said of Fierceness’s trip Saturday. “Somebody moved on the outside and I let him do his thing. [I saw] Paco’s already riding so I kind of sat against him thinking, ‘Let me just wait.’ When I asked him, he wasn’t there for me.”Hades ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.07 while dealing with constant pressure.
“He likes to fight. He beat the Breeders’ Cup winner. Maybe the Breeders’ Cup winner wasn’t 100 percent ready, but I know my horse and ran very good today,” said Lopez, who had ridden the son of Awesome Slew in his first two victories.
The Orseno trainee overcame bumping at the start of his Dec. 9 debut at Gulfstream Park, closing from well back to get up in time to win a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight race at Gulfstream. The 3-year-old gelding had a much easier time of things in his return in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance for Florida-breds, shaking off early pressure while setting the back and drawing away to an eight-length romp.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet. If you know me, I didn’t have him peaked today. I know what it takes if you’re going to campaign a horse,” said Orseno, who saddled Red Bullet for a victory in the 2000 Preakness. “It was like, we’ll have him ready for today, and this was our plan today, but this was today’s plan. It’s not the ideal plan if you’re trying to win the Derby or even get there, but for today it worked.”
Orseno wasn’t ready to commit Hades to the March 2 Fountain of Youth (G2), the final prep for the Florida Derby, in the aftermath of his gelding’s victory.
“I’m going to let the horse tell us. Right now, I would say no, but if the horse is sharp …” Orseno said. “He’s lightly raced. He’s run five and a half and seven furlongs. It’s not like he’s been pushed.”
Hades’ upset was especially satisfying for Orseno because Leonard Green’s D J Stable LLC and Robert Cotran have been longtime clients who paid $130,000 for the Holy Bull winner at the 2022 OBS April sale.
“The owners have been with me for a long time and their partner, Robert Cotran, he’s been with me just as long. It’s great. We put the two of them together. They didn’t know each other when it happened but they know each other now.”