Saturdays are alright with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and jockey Junior Alvarado this winter in South Florida.
One week after teaming up to win the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) at Gulfstream Park with Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector , the trainer/jockey duo experienced another Saturday success there Feb. 4, this time winning the $250,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) with Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Rocket Can . The latter, a gray son of Into Mischief , prevailed by three-quarters over a length under fellow Bill Mott trainee Shadow Dragon , ridden by Jose Ortiz.
Alvarado guided Rocket Can in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull similarly to how he did Art Collector, settling his mount just off the pace in the clear on the outside before making a move on the second turn. Fifth, a couple of lengths off fractions of :23.92 and :48.84 set by Mr. Bob in the 1 1/16-mile race, Rocket Can swooped into action with a four-wide bid on the second turn, pulling into third place as Legacy Isle , who had pressed the pace for the opening half-mile, took over the lead for a brief moment with six furlongs in 1:13.76.
Almost as quickly as Legacy Isle took the lead, he lost it to Rocket Can, who came into the stretch with about a length lead over his closing stablemate Shadow Dragon. Though the latter had momentum, he proved unable to gain meaningful ground on Rocket Can down the lane.
With a final sixteenth in :6.43, the winner was timed on a fast track in 1:44.97—the slowest time at the 1 1/16-mile distance in the race since Booklet won the Holy Bull in 2002 in 1:46.16. The race was run at different distances from 2005-12.
Rocket Can and his connections head to the winner’s circle
Rocket Can paid $7.20 as the second favorite in the field of eight.
Alvarado notched his second victory in the Holy Bull after initially capturing the race in 2016 aboard Shadwell Stable’s Mohaymen for Kiaran McLaughlin.
“The horse broke sharp, and I hustled out of there just to make sure I’m forwardly placed and he was there for me,” Alvarado said of his mount, who started from the far outside. “I couldn’t really save much ground (in) the first part because everybody had the same idea to get out of there running. I ended up being a little bit wide, but he was very kind. He was nice and relaxed the whole way around, so I was very pleased with what I had under me.
“By the three-eighths pole, I started picking it up little by little, knowing that it’s the first wire. I had a great feeling going all the way around.”
Saturday’s effort strengthened Mott’s confidence in Rocket Can’s stamina.
“It seems like he can keep going. Hopefully, another sixteenth is good and another three-sixteenths is even better,” said Mott. “Time will tell that.”
Stepping out of New York-bred company in just his third start, Shadow Dragon also pleased the Hall of Fame trainer with his runner-up finish at 34-1 odds.
“It was a great race for him. I’m very pleased with his effort for a horse that’s run only twice,” said Mott.
(L-R): Frank Fletcher and Bill Mott at Gulfstream Park
West Coast Cowboy finished 2 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up in third, followed by Legacy Isle in fourth and Il Miracolo in fifth. The top-five finishers earned qualifying points on a 20-8-4-2-1 basis toward the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.
Coming up empty as the favorite was Cyclone Mischief , who, after a sharp break, lacked a finishing kick after he was rated and stalked the pace in traffic. He finished seventh.
“At the quarter pole, he started making a little bit of noise and he switched to his off lead, and that was it,” said Cyclone Mischief’s jockey, Tyler Gaffalione. “But he pulled up fine we’ll see what we’ve got next time.”
Bred in Kentucky by Woodford Thoroughbreds, Rocket Can is the first stakes winner from three living foals out of the Tapit mare Tension . The others are an unplaced Pioneerof the Nile filly named Goddessof the Nile and an unnamed City of Light 2-year-old colt.
Rocket Can went through public auction in 2021 at The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s select yearling sale in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., from his breeder’s consignment. He failed to meet his reserve when the hammer fell at $245,000.
The winner, who capped his 2-year-old season with a second in an allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs Nov. 26, is now 2-1-0 in five starts with earnings of $249,738.
Bill Mott trainees Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon finish 1-2 in the Holy Bull Stakes
The Holy Bull serves a prep for the April 1 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream, with another major race, the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), in between. The champion 2-year-old male of last year, Forte , is expected to return in the latter.
“I think we’d want to do that with one of them, for sure,” Mott said of the Fountain of Youth.
White Abarrio won both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby for owners C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable and trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., skipping the Fountain of Youth.
Tapit Trice Serves Notice
Earlier on Saturday at Gulfstream, another talented 3-year-old, Tapit Trice , signaled his readiness for graded stakes company by winning a first-level allowance optional claiming race by eight lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable-owned son of Tapit collared stablemate Shesterkin approaching the stretch, and the gray powered clear to complete a mile in 1:36.94 under Luis Saez. He paid $4.60 to win in improving to 2-for-3. He had previously won a maiden special weight in fast time at Aqueduct Racetrack Dec. 17 in his second outing after a third-place finish on debut there Nov. 6.
Tapit Trice soars to victory in an allowance-level event at Gulfstream Park
Bred in Kentucky by Gainesway, Tapit Triice is out of the three-time stakes-winning Dunkirk mare Danzatrice . In 2021, he was a $1.3 million September Yearling Sales purchase by Whisper Hill Farm from Gaineway’s consignment, and the two entities joined in partnership to campaign him.