By Bill Finley
What already promised to be one of the most exciting Triple Crown campaigns ever got that much better Sunday when a horse named Dialed In put in the kind of effort in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream that suggested he could be a superstar in the making. In him, Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve, we have three stakes winners that have been nothing less than brilliant. To suggest any one of them could go down as one of the best ever is not at all preposterous.
There was a lot of hype about Dialed In after he broke his maiden in November at Churchill Downs. He broke slowly, trailed well behind the field, was all over the racetrack and, somehow, managed to run down the leaders to win by a half-length. It was as visually impressive a win as they get.
The next logical step for Dialed In would have been an allowance race, and trainer Nick Zito had one in mind on Jan. 21, but the weather threw him a curveball. When the track came up sloppy, he decided to scratch. Faced with no other practical options, Zito then put Dialed In in the Holy Bull.
I didn’t think he had a prayer. No matter how talented a horse is, to go up against experienced, quality stakes horses like Gourmet Dinner and Mucho Macho Man off just a maiden win is an immensely difficult challenge. Very few can pull it off, especially horses who won with a meager 75 Beyer number in their debuts.
For Dialed In, though, the Holy Bull was another cakewalk. He again lagged well behind the field, closed on the inside, wheeled to the outside as the field turned into the stretch and then motored past his rivals to win drawing away. It was the same type of electrifying performance he gave in his maiden win, but the competition was much better this time.
“He’s very special. I’ve never had a horse do this — go from a maiden special race to jump up and win a race like the Holy Bull,” Zito said.
Zito wasn’t sure what he would do with Dialed In next. Having won the Holy Bull, he’s in a position to pick his spots more carefully. Now, he doesn’t have to rush anything and with the $240,000 the colt earned Sunday, he may already have enough in earnings to make the Derby field. It’s likely, though, that the Fountain of Youth and/or the Florida Derby will be on his schedule.
A few hours before the Holy Bull, 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo had his first workout of the year, a 3-furlong breeze at Palm Meadows in preparation for the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby. On paper, the time (:39.80) was terrible, but that’s probably no reason to worry. He is in the hands of Todd Pletcher and Pletcher certainly knows what he’s doing, slow works or not.
As a 2-year-old, Uncle Mo turned in the type of dominant performances we used to get from horses like Spectacular Bid and Seattle Slew. There was him and there was everyone else; his competitors didn’t belong in the same universe as him.
(How about his owner, Mike Repole? The guy is talking about buying into the Mets, he just picked up an Eclipse Award and on Sunday his beloved St. John’s routed No. 3 Duke. And did anyone notice that he was sitting on the St. John’s bench? That is some serious clout.)
But, now, who knows? He might not even be the best out there. There’s Dialed In and there’s To Honor and Serve, a colt who looked terrific when winning the Nashua and Remsen last year. He’s likely to resurface in the Fountain of Youth.
There’s more. Comma To The Top is an overachiever that has won everything in California and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Bob Baffert has a horse named The Factor who broke his maiden by 8 ¼ lengths, running six furlongs in 1:06.80, albeit on the paved highway that has been Santa Anita. If not for Uncle Mo, Boys At Toscanova would be an undefeated champion, though his absence from the Holy Bull raises red flags about his future. Brethren, a half-brother to Super Saver, is 2 for 2 and an interesting prospect.
The familiar refrain, that this is a bad group, should never be uttered this year. With Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta drawing so many headlines and winning so many races and with Mine That Bird and Super Saver going a combined 0 for 12 since their Derby wins, it’s been the era of the fillies. Not this year. The 3-year-old (boys) are back.