The pressure was off at Gulfstream Park last weekend.
The pressure will be cranked up there today.
Starlight Racing was fortunate to be able to bask in what was a foregone conclusion at the Eclipse Award ceremony last Saturday, when its undefeated colt, Shanghai Bobby, won the 2012 2-year-old male championship, garnering 253 of 254 first-place votes.
A mere seven days later, Shanghai Bobby will kick off his campaign to make the Kentucky Derby field as the 4-5 morning-line favorite for the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream.
Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg, Starlight co-managing partner with Jack Wolf, said the atmosphere will be vastly different this weekend.
“There’s no doubt there’s a lot of expectation that he has to live up to,” he said. “He’s the 2-year-old champion, he’s undefeated.”
“Anytime you have an undefeated champion, you want to make sure you have him properly prepared,” trainer Todd Pletcher told the Gulfstream press office. “So there’s a little added anxiety when you’re running one that has a resume like his. But it’s a position you want to be in.”
Shanghai Bobby has had his detractors since well before he won the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in November, mostly because some believe that his pedigree doesn’t suggest an affinity for longer routes, and because his races, although displays of heart, haven’t been particularly fast or eye-catching.
Nevertheless, he’s clearly the one to beat.
Lucarelli said the objective today will be to show progress and maturity from last year, not necessarily to win, especially since the Holy Bull is only worth 10 Derby qualifying points to the winner. Shanghai Bobby has 20 points, and it’s generally believed that about 40 will get a horse into the Derby field.
“We want to get a good race off the shelf and hope we do win, but really we just want to get in a good race and move forward,” Lucarelli said. “Where they came up with 4-5, I don’t know. I expect he’ll go off higher.”
Shanghai Bobby, who won the Hopeful at Saratoga Race Course and the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park before the Breeders’ Cup, has been working steadily at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., about a 45-minute drive north of Gulfstream.
On Thursday, Pletcher shipped him south to school in the Gulfstream paddock, and Lucarelli said it appears to have been a wise move.
“Todd was very happy that they brought him down from Palm Meadows to school,” he said. “With that narrow saddling area, he got a little fractious, but then they got the saddle on and got him in the walking ring, and he was fine. He’s laid back, but for the first time there, it’s like a tunnel in there.”
“Expectations are pretty high, so we have to make sure we’ve done our job properly and put him in position where he will perform to the best of his capabilities,” Pletcher said. “He’s grown up, filling out, all the things you want to see from him going into his 3-year-old year.”
Shanghai Bobby drew the No. 1 post in a 10-horse field and will have Rosie Napravnik in the saddle for the sixth time.
The Holy Bull field includes Bern Identity, who won the Sanford at Saratoga for trainer Kelly Breen and owners George and Lori Hall. They teamed up to win the 2011 Belmont Stakes with Ruler On Ice.
Bern Identity was third behind Shanghai Bobby and Fortify in the Hopeful.
Instead of going to the Breeders’ Cup, he was sent to Delta Downs, where he won the Jean Lafitte and was second to eventual Sham winner Goldencents in the Delta Downs Jackpot.
Also in the Holy Bull are the place and show finishers from the Kentucky Jockey Club, the Ken McPeek-trained Frac Daddy and Dale Romans-trained Dewey Square, as well as three-time stakes winner Itsmyluckyday, who is coming off a victory in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day.
“I wasn’t too excited about the post when I first saw it, then I looked in the book, and the percentage of winners from that post is a little better than I thought it would be,” Lucarelli said. “But the fact is, you have no control over that.
“It’ll probably force Rosie’s hand a little to try to pull some people wide into the first turn. I don’t think we want to be on the lead. Ideally, we’ll get away, get into the first turn, get away clean, take most of them wide and then get off the rail on the backstretch and let everyone else get aggressive because they want to or have to. Look, a good horse has to find a way to win. It’s part of the game.”
Shanghai Bobby has won on four different tracks, but this will be his first race at Gulfstream.
If all goes well, he will point to the Florida Derby as a final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re comfortable that we’re going in with the right horse,” Lucarelli said. “His coat is unbelievable.”
Starlight, which sold a 50 percent share to Coolmore before the Breeders’ Cup but still holds controlling interest, will have about 50 partners and friends traveling from various points in the U.S. to Gulfstream for the Holy Bull, Lucarelli said, including Bob Burton, the commercial pilot for Delta for whom the colt was named.
Burton was scheduled to fly from Tokyo Friday morning, then to Florida this morning.
Ramon Dominguez, who was diagnosed with a skull fracture as a result of a spill last Friday at Aqueduct, continues to improve and was transferred from Jamaica Hospital in Queens to New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan on Tuesday for further evaluation.
“Ramon is doing really well and resting comfortably,” his wife, Sharon, told NYRA. “I can’t thank the doctors and staff enough at Jamaica Hospital for the superb care they provided to Ramon. With an injury like this, we thought it was important to seek a second opinion, which is why we decided to change hospitals.”
There is no timetable for Ramon Dominguez’s release from New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
“Ramon is improving steadily, but needs to rest as he recovers, and his doctors have prohibited him from having visitors at this time,” Sharon Dominguez said.
Dominguez was unseated during the running of the seventh race when his mount, Convocation, appeared to clip heels with the eventual winner, Sovereign Default. Convocation, who stumbled and fell, was walked off the track.
With Dominguez on the shelf indefinitely, Joel Rosario has been named by Team Valor International and trainer Graham Motion to ride Animal Kingdom in his 2013 debut, scheduled to be the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 9.
BAZE at 50,000
According to Equibase, Russell Baze, the North American all-time leading rider by wins, made his 50,000th career start on Friday, finishing third aboard 3-2 favorite Finish Rich in Nyc at Golden Gate Fields.
Baze is the first North American rider to reach that number.
Since Jan. 1, 1976, Baze’s races total 343,396 furlongs, which equals 42,9241⁄4 miles, and the total time elapsed for those races is 1,1441⁄2 hours, which equals nearly 48 days (calculated based on one furlong averaging 12 seconds).
The Holy Bull undercard includes Gulfstream’s corresponding stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the Grade II Forward Gal.
Like the Holy Bull, the Forward Gal has drawn a Pletcher-trained 4-5 favorite who won at Saratoga, Spendthrift Farm’s Kauai Katie.
She’s already been out this year, winning the Grade III Old Hat at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day after having suffered her first career loss, a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Kauai Katie broke her maiden and won the Adirondack at Saratoga, and won the Matron by a combined 221⁄4 lengths.
Ladies Handicap runner-up R Gypsy Gold has inherited 4-5 favoritism for today’s stakes at Aqueduct, the $75,000 Affectionately.
Live racing was canceled at Aqueduct on Thursday and Friday because of cold weather, but the New York Racing Association expects to run today, based on the forecast.
Ladies Handicap winner Arena Elvira looked to be the favorite for the Affectionately, but she was retired on Wednesday, according to the Daily Racing Form, because trainer Bill Mott didn’t like how she was moving after the Ladies.
Arena Elvira, a daughter of Ghostzapper who won almost $500,000 in 17 starts, won two overnight stakes at Saratoga in 2011 to kick off a five-race winning streak that also included the Grade II Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs.
Fair Grounds has a full slate of stakes, including the Grade III Col. Bradley, where Optimizer will continue his move to the turf as the slight favorite at 7-2.
He finished out of the money in all three Triple Crown races last year, then was switched to the grass, finishing fifth in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and winning an allowance at Saratoga. He followed that up with a win in the Kent at Delaware Park.
Golden Ticket, the 33-1 long shot who dead-heated with Alpha in the Travers, will make his 2013 debut in the fourth race on the Holy Bull undercard at Gulfstream.
He’s the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a pretty tough allowance field of eight that also includes 2011 Grade II Remsen winner O’Prado Again. Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs owns a minor share in O’Prado Again through Donegal Racing.
Golden Ticket has just two career victories, a maiden win at Gulfstream in his sixth start and the Travers. After the Travers, he was third in the Pennsylvania Derby, ahead of Alpha in sixth, and was 11th in the Hollywood Derby.
After winning the Remsen as a 2-year-old, O’Prado Again missed most of 2012 before returning in the fall. He was seventh in the Indiana Derby in October.
In a two-year funding agreement with the Ontario government, Woodbine will see a 14.7 percent reduction in race dates in 2013, to 133, but average daily purses will remain comparable to the 2012 level of just over $500,000.
There will be 23 fewer race dates.
Ontario’s slots-at-racetracks program is set to expire on March 31, although an agreement-in-principle between the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. and Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks was reached this week to continue slots operations and those two tracks.
Racing will begin at Woodbine on April 20.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Jockey Joe Rocco Jr., 30, rode his 1,000th career winner in the ninth race at Gulfstream Park, on Rustler Hustler.
The Delaware-based Rocco is the regular rider of Grade III Azeri winner Tiz Miz Sue, who was second by a neck to Royal Delta in the Delaware Handicap and fourth in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
The 6-year-old mare has been working steadily at Oaklawn Park and is scheduled to begin her 2013 campaign in March, with an eye on the Apple Blossom in April. . . .
Clawback, owned by Klaravich Stables and Shaker High School graduate William Lawrence, won the Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct on Monday and could be headed to the Grade III Bay Shore on the April 6 Wood Memorial undercard.
“I think we’re going to stay the one turn for a while, but that’s up to Rick and the owners,” Rusty Myers, assistant to trainer Rick Violette, told NYRA. “He’s running great sprinting.”
HERE AND THERE
Female sprint champion Groupie Doll has had the start of her 2013 season delayed after trainer Buff Bradley put her on antibiotics when some routine bloodwork came back less than normal.
She hasn’t trained yet and will have her season debut pushed back perhaps to March 17 for the Inside Information at Gulfstream. . . .
The New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund Corporation voted at its Jan. 18 board meeting to keep awards at historically high levels.
Board member Joseph McMahon of McMahon Thoroughbreds in Saratoga Springs, said support for a second year of awards at the high levels signals that “the comeback in the state’s thoroughbred industry that began three years ago is picking up momentum.”
He was voted unanimously by the board to serve as acting chairman in the wake of the resignation of John Sabini.
The Thoroughbred Breeding Fund distributed $16.9 million dollars in awards plus purse enrichment for NY-bred races 2012.