Cairo Prince, Top Billing steal the show at Gulfstream Park

Cairo Prince gallops to an easy, 5 3/4-length victory in the Holy Bull Stakes for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014
Cairo Prince gallops to an easy, 5 3/4-length victory in the Holy Bull Stakes for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014
Bob Coglianese Photos, Inc / Leslie Martin

Back home in Kentucky, it was snowing.

By the time May rolls around, Kiaran McLaughlin and Shug McGaughey -- thoroughbred trainers who graduated from rival high schools in Lexington -- hope to find the weather as glorious as it was Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The weather AND the results.

A pair of 3-year-olds trained by the two men made emphatic statements on the road to Kentucky Derby, with Cairo Prince romping to victory in the Holy Bull Stakes for McLaughlin and Top Billing living up to his billing for McGaughey in an allowance race earlier on the card.

"I love for the horse to make the statement," said McLaughlin, standing in the winner's circle following Cairo Prince's 5 3/4-length win in the Holy Bull. "But it's hard not to get excited when you have these kind."

Said McGaughey, who was just as ecstatic after Top Billing rallied from last to put away the field with ease in his race: "That was impressive. I thought it was a powerful race today."

McGaughey, a Hall of Fame trainer, is typically sparing with his praise.

But on a picture-perfect afternoon at Gulfstream, and with Derby fever beginning to filter into the air -- albeit more than three months out from the Run for the Roses -- it was hard for the two trainers not to feel a rush in their veins. Not given how impressive each of their colts looked.

Cairo Prince was the 2-1 favorite in what was regarded as a strong field of 3-year-olds for the Holy Bull, an early prep race that in previous years had served as a springboard for eventual Derby winner Barbaro and a pair of Derby runner-ups: Dialed In and Closing Argument.

The dark gray colt was making his first start of 2014, and first since November 30 when he came up a nose short to Honor Code in the Remsen Stakes in New York. Many consider Honor Code to be the top East Coast 3-year-old and, like Top Billing, he belongs to the care of McGaughey.

McGaughey won last year's Derby with Orb.

McLaughlin attributed Cairo Prince's loss in the Remsen to jockey error, saying rider Luis Saez relaxed on the horse after seizing the lead in the stretch, a blunder that enabled Honor Code to overtake them at the wire.

"He didn't ride him aggressively or hit him," McLaughin said. "He kind of got by Honor Code and thought he had it won."

Despite the mistake, McLaughlin stuck with Saez, allowing him to keep the mount. There was no let-up by Saez in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull, and the outcome wasn't close.

Cairo Prince kicked past the tiring frontrunners in the final turn and coasted under the wire to an easy win, well in front of runner-up Conquest Titan and third-place finisher Intense Holiday.

"He just took off," Saez said. "I had so much horse."

It was the largest margin of victory in the Holy Bull since Suave Prospect won the race by eight lengths in 1995.

Cairo Prince crossed under the wire in 1:42 1/5.

That was a couple of ticks faster than Top Billing's winning time of 1:42 3/5 in taking Saturday's fourth-race allowance over a salty field of 3-year-olds who are just beginning to blossom.

But unlike Cairo Prince, who settled a few lengths behind a hot early pace before making his strike, Top Billing dropped back to last, eight lengths off the pace set by Surging USA. When jockey Joel Rosario asked Top Billing to make his move, though, the colt responded with a sudden burst, picking off the horses in front of him in brisk manner and pulling away in a hand ride.

"He just pulled me," Rosario said.

McGaughey and McLaughlin are hoping their horses can pull them all the way to Louisville on May 3.

"We're marching on," McLaughlin said. "There's plenty of good horses out there. We just hope we keep making it."

McGaughey said he wasn't sure when and where Top Billing would race next. It could be the Feb. 22 Fountain of Youth Stakes or the March 29 Florida Derby -- both at Gulfstream. Or, McGaughey could ship the colt to an out-of-state race and keep him he and Honor Code from locking horns.

"The one thing we’re not going to do is we’re not going to overcook him early," McGaughey said. "That’s not going to happen. We’ll just have to wait and see."

McLaughlin indicated that the Fountain of Youth was a possibility for Cairo Prince.

One way or the other, McLaughlin knows he has a hot horse on his hands.

"We're holding a very strong hand with this colt and we feel very confident going forward," McLaughlin said. "You just hope we keep going forward, because things happen to horses all the time. It's a tough game."


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