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- G2 winner at 1 1/16 miles (Risen Star Stakes)
- Never off the board as a three-year-old
- Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Super Saver, Rags to Riches, Uncle Mo)
- Jockey: John Velazquez*
- Owned by: Starlight Racing
- Record: 8: 2-1-1
- Earnings: $551,900
- Best speed figures: 97 Beyer (Risen Star Stakes), 99 BRIS Figure (Wood Memorial), 106 Equibase
Background: Favorites last year with their Verrazano, Starlight Racing and Todd Pletcher realign once again with their rising star Intense Holiday, a son of their recently-deceased top sire Harlan’s Holiday out of a daughter of another recently-deceased top stallion, Unbridled’s Song. While Pletcher’s string comes up lighter than usual in this year’s Derby, many have summoned around Intense Holiday after a very recent dynamite workout at Churchill Downs, giving many Derby fever about the dark bay colt.
Prep Schedule: A good eight races old, Intense Holiday kicked his career off in a late July maiden at Monmouth, lacking any headway going 5 1/2 furlongs on the dirt to finish a dusty 5th. Stretching out to a mile did the trick, as the colt took off to get the early lead and never abandoned it, winning by a comfortable 3 1/2 lengths which was cut down from 6 by second place Afleet Accompli. Upgrading to the Champagne (I) two months later, Intense Holiday could only give chase at Saratoga, finishing 5th some 8 1/2 lengths back. Shipping to Aqueduct in early November, he was able to keep up with the field in the Nashua Stakes (II) until late, holding down 4th behind Cairo Prince some 5 lengths. Springing for more ground in the 9-furlong Remsen (II), Intense Holiday went wide but had too handicapped a trip to do better than 4th, failing a mere 3 or so lengths. Returning in January to Gulfstream Park, Intense Holiday mustered a very good effort off the layoff in the competitive 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (II), circling the field wide to get up for 3rd, but still a long ways off from winner Cairo Prince. Shipping to Fair Grounds and encountering another large field, he went wide again in his gradual rally, eventually wearing them all down to win the 1 /16-mile Risen Star (II) by a head over pacesetter Albano. Stretching back to 9 furlongs in the Louisiana Derby (II), Intense Holiday had yet another rocky trip and rallied well to be 2nd, behind romping pacesetter Vicar’s In Trouble who won by 3 1/2 lengths.
Pedigree: Void of any inbreeding in his first five generations, Intense Holiday is sired by the good Harlan’s Holiday, who was once a Derby favorite and a G1 winner multiple times at 9 furlongs. Harlan’s Holiday was well known for siring runners of multiple surface preferences, but was mainly best for young runners running from 7 to 9 furlongs. Harlan’s Holiday himself is by the G1-winning sprinter Harlan (by Storm Cat) and out of the Affirmed daughter Christmas in Aiken. His dam Intensify is by Unbridled’s Song, another favored Derby runner who was a great sire for many different types of runners, although mainly younger horses at shorter distances. Intensify is out of the G1-placed Her She Shawklit, who lends some stamina to the mix being by Wood Memorial (I) winner Air Forbes Won (by Bold Forbes).
Estimated TrueNicks Rating: N/A
Dosage Index: 3.80
Running Style: Off-the-pace, midpack
Pros: Experienced and scantly passed in the stretch, Intense Holiday popped the cork in winning the Risen Star Stakes (II) in a fashion that sets him up well preparation-wise for a similar scenario in the Kentucky Derby, where he may be forced to deal with a wider than usual trip. He has also taken a liking to Churchill, and could be progressing forward at the right time.
Cons: He won the Risen Star (II) by a small margin over a debatable foe (Albano) and has yet to really answer the class question in any of his starts. His sire/grandsire have not achieved Derby-producing success and failed in their own attempts.
Final Word: The question really boils down to how good Intense Holiday is or isn’t. He had a good race in the Risen Star (II) but I’m really wondering how fast he is and how much better (if any) he will become when asked for another furlong. In my opinion, not that much.