Holy Bull outruns rabbit, holds off rush of Concern

August 21, 1994|By Jay Searcy | Jay Searcy,Knight-Ridder News Service

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The rabbit slowed at the three-quarter pole. The Cat was passed by The Dog. The Dog chased The Bull. The Bull outran The Rabbit, The Cat and The Dog.

Nobody beats The Bull.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the $725,000 Travers Stakes, the 125-year-old Midsummer Derby that ended in a photo finish here yesterday and left Holy Bull the undisputed leader in American thoroughbred racing.

Before 46,395 at Saratoga Race Course, Holy Bull held off a spectacular late charge by Maryland-bred underdog Concern, nipped him by a neck with his final stride and perhaps silenced his last critics.

It was the gray colt's first attempt at the grueling 1 1/4-mile distance since his 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in May, and it was the most satisfying victory yet for 74-year-old Hall of Fame owner-trainer Jimmy Croll.

Tabasco Cat, winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the 8-5 second favorite and Holy Bull's chief rival for Horse of the Year, finished an exhausted third, 17 lengths down the track.

And Commanche Trail, Tabasco Cat's stablemate and cohort, who was entered solely as a rabbit to soften The Bull's brilliant front-running speed, sacrificed himself early and was eased home, last in the five-horse field.

"Not only did he run a mile and a quarter," said Holy Bull's excited jockey, Mike Smith, but "he ran hard every step of the way. It was a tremendous effort on his part."

Said Croll: "He did what he had to do. They tried all ways to beat him -- set the pace, everything. . . . He did it without a race over the track, and he did it without a work over the track, which they said couldn't be done. He proved them wrong."

As for the use of the rabbit by Tabasco Cat's trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, Croll said it caused him concern.

But, he said, "you saw where he finished. It made [Holy Bull] run harder and faster than he would have run. He had me in on the rail where I couldn't get out. The fractions were faster than they should have been. That was their game plan, and it almost worked, but not in their favor."

The strategy did backfire on Lukas, because with Commanche Trail setting a torrid pace (22 4/5 seconds for the first quarter and 46 1/5 for the half) and leading Holy Bull by a head for most of the first half-mile, it set the stage perfectly for the late-running Concern.

Ridden deftly by veteran Jerry Bailey, Concern fell 15 lengths off the pace by the first turn and raced far back, saving ground for six furlongs before beginning his dramatic surge.

He moved from last to second on the far turn, and he was just 1 1/2 lengths behind Holy Bull at the head of the stretch.

Concern, who has made a living finishing second and third, slowly gained ground on the tiring Bull, who dug in under Smith's light whip at the eighth pole and refused to be passed.

"It was a great effort by both horses," Bailey said.

"The pace was hot, and it was just what I needed to have a chance to beat him. We had a chance to go by him."

Concern, the leading money-winning Maryland-bred this year, lost for the fifth straight time since his victory in the Arkansas Derby on April 23.

Bailey said he never got in front of Holy Bull and added, "I don't know if I would have if we went around again."

Holy Bull, tired as he was, would not yield. He finished in 2 minutes, 2 seconds. The stakes record is 2 minutes.

Tabasco Cat, in third position on the backstretch, never fired. "He didn't handle the track at all," Lukas said. "This is the second time we've run on a wet track, and he just doesn't handle it."

Jockey Pat Day said Tabasco Cat began slipping and sliding at the seven-eighths pole, "and at that point we were already out of the race."

The track conditions had been sloppy or muddy since Thursday and were upgraded to fast in the race just before the Travers. But it was wet and heavy.

The victory for Holy Bull was the 11th in a 13-race career, seventh of nine this year and fourth in a row. And the $450,000 winner's purse left him with earnings of $2.1 million.

A victory in his next, and last, race of the year -- next month's Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park -- would put him in front for the 3-year-old championship, and Horse of the Year honors, as well.

Tabasco Cat will likely race next in the Jockey Cup Gold Cup and then go to the Breeders' Cup. Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin, who will run here Wednesday in a tuneup after a two-month layoff, will challenge The Bull in the Woodward.

Holy Bull, who has been in training for 18 months, is not nominated for the Breeders' Cup, the world series of racing, and is scheduled to rest for the rest of the year after the Woodward. It would cost $360,000 to supplement Holy Bull to the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, an option Croll has never considered.

Holy Bull, the 4-5 favorite, paid $3.60 to win and $3 to place. There was no show payoff. Concern, 5-1, paid $3.40 and got $165,000 for second place.

Tabasco Cat, 8-5, won $90,000 for third, and Unaccounted For, 6-1, who beat Tabasco Cat here three weeks ago with a 14-pound weight advantage, earned $45,000 for fourth. Copper Mount, a late entry whose connections were hoping for a muddy track, was scratched.

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