Race fans and bettors from coast-to-coast continue to be on the lookout for breakthrough performances on the road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, with eyes on horses like Maximus Mischief and Mihos, two of the expected favorites in the Saturday’s $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Holy Bull, 1994 Haskell Stakes
The late champion Holy Bull winning the 1994 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. (Image: Equi-Photo)

Other significant Derby preps for 3-year-olds slated for Saturday are the $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in New York and the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park in California.

As this year’s Run for the Roses approaches, various prep races will increase in purse money, length and points value until the top 3-year-olds enter the starting gate at Churchill Downs in Louisville on May 4 for the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby.

All three stakes this Saturday are at 1 1/16 miles and are offering – 10-4-2-1 – on the Kentucky Derby points schedule for the first four finishers. The Derby field is limited to 20 runners determined by the final points standings.

Eyes on Mihos and Maximus Mischief

Mihos, surprise winner of $100,000 Mucho Macho Man Stakes in early January at Gulfstream, rallying off the pace in his stakes debut, will be challenged in the Holy Bull by undefeated Maximus Mischief from the stable of Robert E. ‘Butch’ Reid in the 10-horse field.

Maximus Mischief romped in his first two 2018 starts at Parx, near Philadelphia, Reid’s home base. He then stepped up in class to win the 1 1/8 mile Remsen Dec. 1 at Aqueduct, beating his six rivals by more than two lengths. Maximus Mischief is likely to be the race favorite off his two recent workouts over Gulfstream’s main track — his most recent, a five-furlong breeze in 58.02 seconds Jan. 19. It was a bullet workout — the best time for the distance that day — the quickest of 57 horses.

Derby Points, Betting Attention at Stake

At Santa Anita, Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto is expected to challenge trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Gunmetal Gray, winner of the 1 mile Sham Stakes Jan. 5, also at Santa Anita. Mucho Gusto comes off a second place finish in the Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 8 at 1 1/16 mile. Also expected to garner some betting attention in the six-horse field is Nolo Contesto for John Sadler.

At Aqueduct, top conditioner Todd Pletcher sends out Moretti, the likely favorite in the Withers. The son of Medaglia d’Oro, a $900,000 yearling purchase, faces six others. He comes off a maiden score over the Aqueduct oval on Dec. 20.

Among the horses whose 2019 performances that have already put them on the Kentucky Derby radar is Gray Attempt, the winner of last Friday’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The swift son of Graydar was not Kentucky Derby eligible before the race. However, after his wire-to-wire score, his connections quickly paid the nomination fee to make him eligible. Expect to see him next in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 18.

In addition to Gray Attempt, other 2019 starters who have positioned themselves with early season wins on the entry ramp to the road to Kentucky Derby glory include War of Will in the Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds and Hidden Scroll, a 14 lengths winner in a maiden event last Saturday at Gulfstream.

War of Will is the likely favorite in the Risen Star Stakes Feb. 16 at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Hidden Scroll’s trainer Bill Mott has yet to commit to his speedster’s next start, but, lacking a suitable allowance race, it’s likely to be the deep, competitive waters of the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on March 2.