Photo courtesy Coglianese Photos/Eleanor Gustafson
Greetings from another zany Triple Crown season.
Any thoughts that an undefeated juvenile champion would remain dominant at three faded from sight late Saturday afternoon when Itsmyluckyday edged away from Shanghai Bobby in the final furlong of the Holy Bull Stakes (G3).
Gone is the mystique surrounding Shanghai Bobby, who had always found a way to win, as well as the stability that comes with an unassailable champion.
In its place, a week shy of the first Saturday in February, is the annual dose of confusion that makes the Kentucky Derby a handicapping puzzle second to none.
Who’s the favorite now to win the Derby? There’s no shortage of answers, including Shanghai Bobby.
As disappointing as the Holy Bull might have been for Shanghai Bobby, it did not expose him as a fraud. For most horses it would have been a pretty good 3-year-old debut. In his first race in nearly three months, the winner had to set a new track record to beat him by two lengths. There was also an 11 ½-length gap between the reigning champ and Clearly Now, who was third in a field of 10.
The Holy Bull just might be the race that gives Shanghai Bobby a solid foundation and propels him to great things in the months ahead.
And yet what works for most horses rarely applies to undefeated champions like Shanghai Bobby. More is expected from them due to the great expectations that follow them like a shadow, and in this instance a defeat adds volumes to the whispers that questioned Shanghai Bobby’s ability to handle a distance as demanding as the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby.
With Shanghai Bobby currently scheduled to run only more time before the Kentucky Derby, Saturday’s loss pretty much ensures that his doubters will still be squawking on Derby Day – even if he rebounds and wins the Florida Derby by daylight in his final prep.
Meanwhile, the Holy Bull gave us a new Triple Crown contender in Itsmyluckyday, who has either blossomed into a top-flight runner or absolutely loves Gulfstream Park – where he won the Gulfstream Park Derby by 6 ¾ lengths on New Year’s Day. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. Either way, chances are he may have a rematch with Shanghai Bobby in the Florida Derby, which will be very telling about the Kentucky Derby hopes for both of them – not mention crucial to accumulating enough points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby Point Standings to earn a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Meanwhile, while some of the also-rans in the Holy Bull, like Bern Identity, Frac Daddy and Dewey Square, will regroup, a larger number of hopefuls should be emboldened by seeing some vulnerability in the champ. Perhaps Goldencents, Violence, Oxbow, Overanalyze, Will Take Charge and Uncaptured, just to name a half-dozen possibilities, could emerge as the one who assumes the mantle of Kentucky Derby favorite.
And let’s not forget that a year ago at this time, the past performances of the eventual Kentucky Derby winner, I’ll Have Another, were topped by a 19-length loss in the previous year’s Hopeful.
Buckle up. Once again, it’s going to be a rocky ride.