Hades springs upset in Holy Bull Stakes as Fierceness fades to third

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – With the Grade 3, $250,000 Holy Bull all but conceded to 2023 juvenile male champion Fierceness, it was the lightly raced Florida-bred Hades who stole the spotlight instead.

Hades reasserted himself after being passed by the odds-on favorite around the second turn before withstanding a late bid from Domestic Product to register a stunning two-length victory in the 3-year-old fixture Saturday at Gulfstream Park. It was another 1 1/2 lengths farther back to Fierceness, who finished a tiring and shocking third.

Hades came into the Holy Bull with only two previous starts on his resume. He launched his career with a late-striding half-length victory going 5 1/2 furlongs here Dec. 9 before returning three weeks later with a much more dominant performance, drawing off to win by eight  lengths in a seven-furlong, entry-level dash restricted to statebreds for which he earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure.

Breaking from the rail, an advantageous post position in races decided at 1 1/16 miles over the main track at Gulfstream Park, Hades came away alertly and sprinted right to the lead along the inside under regular rider Paco Lopez. The pair was allowed to get away with soft early splits, 25.03 seconds for the opening quarter and 50.53 for the half, while stalked from the outset by Inveigled.

The two leaders were joined three wide by Fierceness midway down the backstretch, the favorite forging to the lead approaching the 3 1/2- furlong marker and maintaining that advantage around the second turn. But Hades would not give up, gamely reengaging that rival approaching the stretch and ultimately edging clear near midstretch before readily holding safe Domestic Product to the wire. The winner then galloped out full of energy, well ahead of the others, before easing up on the clubhouse turn.

Fierceness, idle since sewing up divisional honors with his one-sided triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile three months earlier, broke a bit flat-footed and then was put in tight quarters and knocked around between Domestic Product and Sea Streak immediately thereafter. Hard-used while hung wide into the first turn, Fierceness recovered to gain striking position three wide entering the backstretch, held a short advantage around the second turn, but could not match strides with the winner upon settling into the stretch.

Inveigled weakened to be fourth, followed by Dancing Groom, the previously undefeated Otello, and Sea Streak.

Hades, a son of Awesome Slew, is trained by Joe Orseno for the partnership of Jonathan Green’s D. J. Stable and Robert Coltran. He earned 20 of the 42 qualifying points up for grabs in the Holy Bull after completing the distance over a fast track in 1:46.51. He paid $20.40. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 85.

“He ran away from a very good horse. He got eyeballed by a champion, dug in, and took off,” Orseno said. “But I thought if [Fierceness] wasn’t ready, today was the day we were going to beat him. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. But how many great 2-year-olds have you seen, they’re just not the same as 3-year-olds. So there were a lot of obstacles they were facing too.”

Orseno said he was happy to see the slow fractions for the opening half-mile, although he wasn’t sure how reliable they really were.

“I was happy, but I wasn’t confident because I wasn’t sure those fractions were right,” Orseno admitted. “What I really liked was when [Fierceness] eyeballed him, he could have collapsed. But he just kept going. When this horse accelerates, he just has another gear.”

And Orseno believes there is room for further improvement with Hades. 

“I don’t think we got to the bottom of him yet,” Orseno said. “I didn’t let him peak today. I know what it takes if you’re going to campaign a horse. I said we’ll have him ready for today. That was our plan for today. It’s not the ideal plan if you’re trying to win the Derby or even get there. But for today it worked.”    

Orseno said he is uncertain at this time if Hades might come back for the next major step on the local Kentucky Derby trail, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, on March 2.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said the start of the Holy Bull reminded him of the early stages of the Grade 1 Champagne, when Fierceness suffered his only other defeat in his second career start.

“He didn’t get off to a very good start, the outside horse bumped him pretty good then he got sandwiched and kind of had to shove him into the race and try to get him to the position we wanted, which we eventually did, Pletcher said.

“But he had to overcome a pretty rough start to get there. Then it seemed like he got into a good rhythm and straightened away for home and he flattened out a little bit. It was a pretty rough start, kind of similar to what happened in the Champagne. When he doesn’t get away well, he doesn’t get into the flow of the race the same way.”

Trainer Chad Brown said he was pleased with the improved performance by Domestic Product, who raced with blinkers off in the Holy Bull while rebounding from a dull effort in the Grade 2 Remsen in his 2-year-old finale.

“He ran super. I’m really proud of him. The winner ran good to continue on and kick there,” Brown said. “We made a good plan to just stay on the rail and save ground. He was pulling [without the blinkers], but it was a slow pace. It jammed us up a little bit pulling, but I’m just so proud that the horse gets back on track.