Field of eight for Holy Bull highlights Derby prep races

The Kentucky Derby is officially on the horizon.

Just three months remain until the 149th Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 6, and Derby prep season is about to kick into high gear.

Dating back to September, prep races in the United States, Europe and Japan have helped establish an initial list of top Kentucky Derby contenders.

The American leaderboard is headlined by the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte (40 points) and the Brad Cox-trained Instant Coffee (32 points).

The European leaderboard is topped by four horses -- Belbek (FR), Auguste Rodin (IRE), The Foxes (IRE) and Crypto Force (GB) -- all with 10 points.

The Japanese leaderboard is paced by Derma Sotogake (JPN) with 20 points.

The 20-horse Derby field features 18 spots reserved for North American-based horses, and one spot each for a Europe-based horse and a Japan-based horse.

Two more prep races are to be run today in the U.S.: The Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park in California.

Holy Bull Stakes

The Grade 3, $250,000 Holy Bull will feature a field of eight 3-year-olds and represents the first of three qualifying points races to be run at Gulfstream Park in the lead-up to this year's Kentucky Derby.

It will also introduce fresh faces to the Derby qualification scene: None of the eight horses in the field have any Derby qualifying points.

The Holy Bull (1 1/16 miles on dirt) will be the final race at Gulfstream today, with a post time of 4:43 p.m. (CST).

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. -- who won the Holy Bull last year with eventual Kentucky Derby participant White Abarrio -- has a pair of horses in this year's race, headlined by Lord Miles (4-1).

Both Lord Miles and West Coast Cowboy (12-1) began their careers by winning maiden special weight races in the fall at Gulfstream, but Lord Miles' stock is significantly higher after running third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream to start the new year.

Bill Mott is the other trainer with two horses in the field. Like Joseph, one horse is a stronger contender to win than the other.

Rocket Can (7-2) finished seventh in a maiden special weight race at Saratoga in September that was won by a current top Kentucky Derby contender in Instant Coffee, but Rocket Can's performance has improved following a move to Churchill Downs: A win and a place in the fall.

Mott has never won the Holy Bull.

Cyclone Mischief (2-1) already has a win at Gulfstream to his name this year in an allowance optional claiming race in January. His first win came in a maiden special weight race at Keeneland in October. Cyclone Mischief has finished in the money in three of four career races.

Robert B. Lewis Stakes

As mentioned above, the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes was to award Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers.

Slight problem with that: Only four horses are in the field.

A bigger issue: They're all trained by Bob Baffert.

Baffert's horses are ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

For any of these horses to be able to earn qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, the horse must be transferred to an eligible trainer by the end of February.

So no Derby qualifying points will be on the line at Santa Anita today.

The Robert B. Lewis (1 1/16 miles on dirt) is set to go off at 3 p.m. (CST).

Arabian Lion (7-5) won his first-ever start in October at Santa Anita in a maiden special weight race, but most recently there was a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2, Los Alamitos Futurity at Los Alamitos (California) in December.

Newgate (8-5) won his debut in a maiden special weight at Del Mar (California) in July, but hasn't found the winner's circle in four starts since. All four of those starts were in graded-stakes races, with a fifth to come in the Robert B. Lewis.

Worcester (9-5) is a son of 2003 Kentucky Derby runner-up and Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, but is yet to win a race in two starts, both of which came at Santa Anita.

Hard to Figure (8-1) is the only horse in the field with a past stakes win: The Capote Stakes at Los Alamitos Thoroughbred in September.

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