Three prep races provided a shakeup in the road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard on Saturday, and while heavy favorites prevailed in two, the richest race of the three was won by a longshot.
Harvey Wallbanger rallied for a one-length victory in the Grade 2, $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, earning 10 points to jump into 12th place on the leaderboard. Trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., the 29-1 shot combined with second-place Everfast, who went off at 99-1 odds, for a payout of more than $1,100 on a $1 exacta bet.
Maximus Micshief, the even-money favorite who entered the race undefeated in three career starts, finished third and earned two points to move into seventh on the leaderboard.
There were no such surprises at Santa Anita, where the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto went off as the 3-5 favorite and won the Grade 3, $150,000 Robert B. Lewis by nearly five lengths over second-choice Gunmetal Gray. Mucho Gusto jumped up to sixth on the leaderboard and now has 14 total points, four behind fourth-place Gunmetal Gray.
“This is the time of year when you want to start getting excited about something,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle. “He got to sit off the pace, which was good. They have to learn to do that … I was really happy with (jockey) Joe (Talamo). He rode him with a lot of confidence, like he was a good horse.”
The son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, Mucho Gusto has now won three of his four career starts.
“He’s a 3-year old, but he feels like an older horse,” Talamo said. “He’s got a great mind. He absolutely loved the mud today.”
The third derby prep race of the afternoon proved lucrative in more ways than one for the winner. Ridden by Junior Alvarado, 2-1 favorite Tax rallied up the rail in the stretch to win the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct by a head. Trained by Danny Gargan, Tax earned 10 points to move into eighth place on the Derby leaderboard. Not only that, he more than tripled his career earnings with the win. Tax has now won $186,300 and has never finished worse than third in his four career starts.
Five more Kentucky Derby prep races are scheduled for this month. Next comes the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 9, then the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds on Feb. 16, the Hyacinth Stakes at Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 17 and the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18. The Risen Star will award 50 points to the winner, the Hyacinth 30 points and the three others 10 points apiece.
Game Winner, trained by Baffert and undefeated in four career starts, tops the road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 30 points.