A field of 10 has been entered for the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) March 30 at Gulfstream Park, although three horses are getting almost all of the attention: Itsmyluckyday, Shanghai Bobby , and Orb .
Itsmyluckyday is the 2-1 favorite on the Florida Derby morning line. The son of Lawyer Ron defeated 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby in Gulfstream's 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 26 by two lengths for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. He was assigned post 3 for the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.
Shanghai Bobby, whose loss in the Holy Bull was the first of his career for trainer Todd Pletcher, is 5-2 on the early line after drawing the rail for the Florida Derby. Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) winner Orb is pegged at 3-1. Orb, who has won three straight races for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, will depart post 6.
"It's not what we would have preferred," Pletcher said of the inside gate. "It limits our options. But it's better than being far outside."
Both Pletcher and Plesa opted to hold their charges out of the Fountain of Youth and train up to the Florida Derby.
MOST WINS BY A JOCKEY: Bill Hartack 3, Bill Shoemaker 3, Mike Smith 3, Jerry Bailey 3, Edgar Prado 3.
MOST WINS BY A TRAINER: John Veitch 3, Nick Zito 3.
BIGGEST LONGSHOT WINNER: Williamston Kid (1966) paid $183.60 after the disqualification of Abe’s Hope.
BIGGEST MARGIN OF VICTORY: Empire Maker (2003) 9 ¾ lengths.
FASTEST TIME: Gen. Duke (1957) 1:46 4/5. Past 20 years – Holy Bull (1994) 1:47.66.
FACTOIDS: Jockey Mike Smith strung together three straight wins (1994-1996) aboard Holy Bull, Thunder Gulch and Unbridled’s Song. Bill Hartack also accomplished the feat aboard Gen. Duke, Tim Tam and Easy Spur (1957-1959).
Compiled by Gary Dougherty
The Florida Derby victor will earn 100 points in the new system to determine the maximum field of 20 allowed to start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), guaranteeing the winner a spot in the May 4 Run for the Roses. The Florida Derby, one of six graded stakes on the card, will be televised live during a one-hour show from 6-7 p.m. EDT to be aired on NBC Sports Network. It is scheduled for a 6:19 p.m. post.
Itsmyluckyday preceded his Holy Bull victory with a 6 3/4-length romp in the Gulfstream Park Derby at one mile on New Year's Day. Two-for-two over the main track (he ran fourth in Gulfstream's Dania Beach Stakes on grass in December), the dark bay colt out of the deceased Doneraile Court mare Viva La Slew deserves favoritism.
He graduated in his second start last June at Monmouth Park and has five wins from nine races for Plesa, four of his victories coming in stakes races. He made seven starts as a 2-year-old.
Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, Itsmyuckyday was the second foal from Viva La Slew, who died last spring of complications after giving birth. Itsmyluckyday was a $47,000 yearling bought for $110,000 through Plesa during last March's OBS sale of 2-year-olds from Eisaman Equine, agent. Plesa trains Itsmyluckyday for his wife, Laurie, and Trilogy Stable.
Itsmyluckyday has posted an impressive series of workouts each Saturday at Calder Casino & Race Course since shortly after his last start.
"If I had drawn a map for his training since the Holy Bull it couldn't have gone any better than it has," said Plesa. "I wouldn't change a thing about what we planned for him."
Elvis Trujillo, who rode Itsmyluckyday for the first time in the Holy Bull, has the return mount.
Shanghai Bobby won all five of his starts as a 2-year-old including victories in the the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) to secure his Eclipse Award as the nation's champion 2-year-old male. He is owned by Jack Wolf's Starlight Racing in partnership with Mrs. John Magnier, Mike Tabor, and Derrick Smith.
A hard-trying son of Harlan's Holiday, Shanghai Bobby was freshened for nearly three months prior to the Holy Bull, a race in which he had an excuse after finding himself vying on the lead from the inside at a fast clip and coming up short. However, with the speedy Merit Man and a couple of others signed on, Pletcher's colt could face a similar scenario in the Florida Derby after landing on the rail.
Shanghai Bobby, who is out of the Orientate mare Steelin', also has to answer questions about his distance limitations.
"Can I answer that after Saturday?" asked Wolf during a March 26 teleconference. "You know, you look at his pedigree. On the bottom side, it would suggest that he would have distance limitations. Having said that, as the type of heart and determination this horse is showing, the way he’s galloped out, and I mean especially the last race, he galloped out very well, I’m willing to give this a shot as far as having the criticism of distance restrictions, and especially if he can go the mile and an eighth.
"I don’t think any of them want to go a mile and a quarter, but it is what it is, and after this race, if it looks like the distance is a factor, then there’s a lot of other races that you know, at seven and eight furlongs, so we’ll just have to wait and see until after this."
Rosie Napravnik has ridden Shanghai Bobby in all of his prior starts.
Orb, owned by his breeders, Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, benefited by the absence of Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby to circle the field in the Feb. 23 Fountain of Youth to win his stakes debut by half a length in a slight upset. The son of Malibu Moon is on a three-race win streak since breaking his maiden in his fourth start last November at Aqueduct Racetrack.
McGaughey has been bowled over by Orb's fast development since shipping into Payson Park from New York for the winter. Orb is also in the enviable spot of having already locked up a starting slot in the Kentucky Derby with his win in the 1 1/16-mile FOY.
"I’m hoping to see a good race out of him. It doesn’t have to be a winning race or running to win, but if he shows us that he’s going forward and makes a good run, we’ll see what happens from there," McGaughey said in the March 26 teleconference.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez takes the return call on Orb, who drew well in post position 6.
"He has made great strides since he got down here, starting with his first work at Payson," said McGaughey. "I came down here with the idea that he probably wouldn't be able to show his best with his style the way the Gulfstream track plays (favoring speed). My expectations were that he might win an 'a other than' allowance race and we'd get him back to New York and maybe get to run him in the Wood Memorial (gr. I).
"He doesn't necessarily have to win Saturday to go to the (Kentucky) Derby, but he has to run the right kind of race. If he doesn't, we won't go. I want the horse to take me there."
Merit Man, with jockey Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Bob Hess Jr., figures to ensure a lively pace in his first try around two turns. He is 15-1 on the morning line.
In two starts at Gulfstream he won the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes on New Year's Day and finished a disappointing fourth in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 2. Hess suggested after the race that he likely made a mistake in the Hutcheson by attempting to see if the colt could rate.
Trainer Dale Romans, the Eclipse champion trainer in 2012, will send out a pair of longshots in the Florida Derby with Carolyn Vogel's Pick of the Litter, to be ridden by Jesus Castanon, and Donegal Racing's maiden Pontiff, with Alan Garcia in the saddle.
Pick of the Litter, 6-1 on the early line, is a son of Kitten's Joy , the Romans-trained 2004 Eclipse champion turf runner and now highly-successful sire. Pick of the Litter has only run twice, finishing ninth in a turf race here Feb. 2 and winning an off-the-turf maiden special by 7 1/2 lengths going 1 1/8 miles Feb. 27.
"He trained like one of my best 2-year-olds last year," said Roman. "He finally looks like he's put it all together. Even though he's by Kitten's Joy, I tried him on the turf and it seems he likes the dirt better. He's come back and worked well and he's going to be tough to handle in there."
Pontiff (30-1) is a regally bred son of Giant's Causeway also with two starts during the Gulfstream meet. He finished ninth in his debut Jan. 5 after stumbling at the start and ran second by a neck in a maiden special Feb. 16.
Magic City Thoroughbreds' Frac Daddy (20-1) came to Gulfstream with a big reputation for trainer Ken McPeek after a strong runner-up effort behind Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs in late November. The son of Scat Daddy disappointed when finishing a distant sixth in the Holy Bull, although he grabbed a quarter and was also found to have been suffering from a throat ulcer at the time.
McPeek, who has tabbed Jockey Corey Lanerie to ride Frac Daddy for the first time, continues to believe in the horse.
"I really haven't changed my mind that he could be one of the best young horses I've ever had," he said. "He's over his problems and has trained great since then. I'm looking forward to this race."
Are You Kidding Me (15-1), a homebred trained by Roger Attfield for Ronald Kirk, Michael Riordan, John Bates, Anthony Shaw, and Aaron Sones, was a good 2-year-old in Canada last year. He finished a close second in the Summer Stakes (Can-IIT) on turf prior to a fifth in the Breeders' Futurity over Polytrack at Keeneland last October.
In his only start since, the Run Away and Hide colt lost by a nose March 9 to well-regarded Noble Tune in a one-mile turf allowance at Tampa Bay Downs. He was entered in the Swale Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs at Gulfstream March 2 but was scratched after drawing post 13.
"He got what he needed from the Tampa race to move him forward," said Attfield. "We've always thought he had the ability to be a possible Derby-quality horse. He's trained very well on dirt here at Payson (Park), but whether they do well on it in a race you just don't know until you try them."
Completing the field are Stipa Racing's Narvaez (20-1) for trainer Agustin Bezara and Charles Fipke's Indy's Illusion (20-1) for trainer Barclay Tagg. Bezara saddled Walter Stipa's Reveron to finish second, by a length behind Take Charge Indy , in the Florida Derby last year with favorite Union Rags third.
$1 Million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I, Race 12, 6:19 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Shanghai Bobby (KY), R Napravnik, T A Pletcher, 5/2
2. Pick of the Litter (KY), J L Castanon, D L Romans, 6/1
3. Itsmyluckyday (KY), E Trujillo, E Plesa Jr., 2/1
4. Pontiff (KY), A Garcia, D L Romans, 30/1
5. Frac Daddy (KY), C J Lanerie, K G McPeek, 20/1
6. Orb (KY), J R Velazquez, C R McGaughey III, 3/1
7. Indy's Illusion (KY), R Maragh, B Tagg, 20/1
8. Merit Man (FL), K J Desormeaux, R B Hess Jr., 15/1
9. Are You Kidding Me (KY), J Lezcano, R L Attfield, 15/1
10. Narvaez (KY), P Lopez, A C Bezara, 20/1
All carry 122 pounds.