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Features - RACING

Itsmylucky day is a top contender for Saturday's Florida Derby. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla of America’s Best Racing asks – and answers – five major questions surrounding the $1 million Florida Derby, to be run at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. 

Q: Why is the Florida Derby important?

A: It is the first prep race worth 100 points to the winner as part of the newly established points system being used to determine the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. Although 2-1 favorite Itsmyluckyday won the Holy Bull in a track record of 1:41.81 for the 1 1/16-mile race, he probably will need to finish first or second to make the cut for the opening leg of the Triple Crown. Beyond that, the race will define which horses are worthy of going on. Trainer Shug McGaughey indicated that Orb, for instance, would drop off the Derby trail if he fares poorly. As McGaughey said in thinking ahead to the opening leg of the Triple Crown, “We’re not running him to be an also-ran.”

Q: Why is Shanghai Bobby the second choice in the morning line, at 5-2, to 2-1 favorite Itsmyluckyday when he staged a magnificent performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and went undefeated in being crowned 2-year-old champion?

A: Skepticism concerning Shanghai Bobby stems from a number of elements. Yes, he went 5-for-5 as a 2-year-old. But his success abruptly ended when he finished second to Itsmyluckyday in the Holy Bull on Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. Jack Wolf, who plays a lead role in the ownership group, acknowledges that questions about whether the son of Harlan’s Holiday can go the distance are legitimate, citing potential pedigree issues on the dam side.

SHANGHAI BOBBY WINNING BREEDERS' CUP JUVENILE

Bobby Pedulla

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

Q: What is the likely pace scenario?

A: After Shanghai Bobby drew the rail for the second consecutive start and Wolf relayed that information to trainer Todd Pletcher by phone, Wolf said he could not repeat Pletcher’s response. It is safe to say Pletcher was not happy because it means jockey Rosie Napravnik must call on the 2-year-old champion in order to gain position for the short run entering the first turn. Although Merit Man will break from post 8 in the field of 10, everything says he will put early heat on Shanghai Bobby to snag the lead and set swift fractions for jockey Kent Desormeaux. He was, after all, second by a nose to Hightail in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. This ain’t no sprint.

Q: Any live long shots?

A: Young horses in the capable hands of trainer Kenny McPeek always warrant attention. In this case, that means 20-1 Frac Daddy, even though he struggled home a distant sixth in his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull. Consecutive bullet five-furlong workouts on March 8 and March 16 at Gulfstream Park should draw the attention of handicappers. Fans will recall that McPeek sent out Golden Ticket to a dead-heat victory with favored Alpha in last year’s Travers Stakes – at 33-1.

FRAC DADDY (outside) FINISHING SECOND IN KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB STAKES

Frac Daddy Outside Pedulla

Photo by Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs

Q: Well, who wins?

A: Orb owns a three-race winning streak, with the last two of those coming at Gulfstream Park despite having a style that leads him to come from off the pace on what is typically a speed-favoring dirt track. He appears to have put behind him the starting gate issues that plagued him early in his career. The Malibu Man colt shows every sign of being a 3-year-old who will get better the farther they go and is blossoming at the ideal time.  

$1 Million Besilu Stables Florida Derby

Saturday, Gulfstream park, Race 12, 6:19 p.m. ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/8 Miles

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

ML Odds

1

Shanghai Bobby

R Napravnik

T A Pletcher

5-2

2

Pick of the Litter

J L Castanon

D L Romans

6-1

3

Itsmyluckyday

E Trujillo

E Plesa Jr.

2-1

4

Pontiff

A Garcia

D L Romans

30-1

5

Frac Daddy

C J Lanerie

K G McPeek

20-1

6

Orb

J R Velazquez

C R McGaughey III

3-1

7

Indy's Illusion

R Maragh

B Tagg

20-1

8

Merit Man

K J Desormeaux

R B Hess Jr.

15-1

9

Are You Kidding Me

J Lezcano

R L Attfield

15-1

10

Narvaez

P Lopez

A C Bezara

20-1

All carry 122 pounds

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