The last time Raging Bull didn’t face Grade 1 competition came more than two years and nine months ago. It came in the Grade 2 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont Park, and it came with a fifth-place finish – albeit by only 1 ¾ lengths.

Raging Bull-Poker Stakes
Raging Bull won this third Grade 1 race at April’s Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland. He faces non-Grade 1 competition for the first time since October 2018 in Saturday’s Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont Park. (Image: Coady Photography)

That was 13 races ago. And that 12-race streak against Grade 1 competition comes to an end in Saturday’s Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont Park.

For the first time since Oct. 6, 2018, Raging Bull doesn’t have to go all-in against Grade 1 runners. This is the definition of “class relief.” Even if it comes against two graded-stakes winners in Get Smokin and Oleksandra, and stakes contenders Front Run the Fed, and French horse Veronesi.

Raging Bull’s drop defines “class relief” even as what came before it defines him as “battle-tested.” The 6-year-old product of Irish sire Dark Angel opened his Grade 1 streak winning the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in December 2018. He closed it in April at Keeneland, winning the Maker’s Mark Mile with a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure.

Raging Bull hit the board eight times in 12 Grade 1s

In between, Raging Bull won the 2020 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. He finished second in the Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga in 2019, and at the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland in 2020. He added thirds in the 2019 Manhattan Stakes, the 2019 Woodbine Mile, and the 2020 Maker’s Mark. That’s good for a 3-2-3 record in those 12 Grade 1s.

That’s good for nearly $1.5 million in career earnings. It’s also a good foundation for an overall record of 7-3-3 in 18 races.

Raging Bull had a 13th Grade 1 on his plate – last month’s Shoemaker Mile — but trainer Chad Brown called an audible that put Raging Bull at the Poker Stakes’ table. In so doing, it put Raging Bull in line to win Brown’s 100th graded stakes race at Belmont Park.

Travel issues make the Poker Stakes an easy play

“We had planned on going out to California, but there were some traveling complications that got in the way,” Brown told the New York Racing Association’s Ryan Martin. “But we’re glad that we’re able to run him out of his own stall. It should be a good stepping stone moving forward to the Fourstardave.”

That Aug. 14 one-mile Grade 1 at Saratoga is a race Raging Bull is quite familiar with. He’s got that second and a fifth in the last two Fourstardaves.

Raging Bull is also getting more relief in the form of Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. The three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey returned Thursday after missing more than two weeks with an injury sustained in an accident before the Belmont Stakes.