It’s one thing to be anticipating a surefire Eclipse Award.
It’s another to do it with a horse with so much still in front of him.
In Shanghai Bobby, Starlight Racing is enjoying both positions heading into the annual awards at 8 tonight.
The show will be broadcast live from Gulfstream Park on HRTV, and the first category to be announced will be for the champion juvenile male.
There’s no doubt that Shanghai Bobby will win it to give co-managing partner Don Lucarelli of Duanesburg his first Eclipse as an owner.
In the meantime, the undefeated 3-year-old is scheduled to breeze at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday at Palm Meadows 40 miles up the coast from Gulfstream for his final work heading into a prep schedule that Starlight hopes will lead him to the Kentucky Derby.
Shanghai Bobby will make his
3-year-old debut in the Grade III Holy Bull at Gulfstream next Saturday.
“The fact that he’s still on his game and has a lot of potential ahead of him is the real exciting part,” Lucarelli said. “If for some reason he doesn’t make it to the Derby, so be it. If we have to point to the Preakness, we’ll point to the Preakness. But, obviously, we want him to keep winning.
“I would think there’s a lot in front of him to produce more, whereas with Hilda’s Passion, it was the end of her career. Unfortunately, she came in second [in the Eclipse voting], and so did Octave, to Rags to Riches. That’s just bad timing.”
Lucarelli had hoped to win his first Eclipse last year with Hilda’s Passion, who had been retired before she had a chance to run in the Breeders’ Cup, but she was second to Musical Romance in the female sprint division.
Octave gave Lucarelli his first graded-stakes win and first win at his home track, Saratoga Race Course, when, at 2, she won the Adirondack in 2006.
She won two Grade I’s as a 3-year-old, but lost the division championship to Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches.
Shanghai Bobby won the Grade II Hopeful last summer and the Grade I Champagne, then Starlight sold half interest in him to Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith of Coolmore, one of the most powerful breeding and racing operations in the world.
Lucarelli and Starlight co-managing partner Jack Wolf still have controlling interest in Shanghai Bobby, whose sire, Harlan’s Holiday was the beaten favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. Two years later, Lucarelli joined forces with Wolf.
That should make it extra special for Wolf when Harlan’s Holiday’s son wins the 2-year-old male Eclipse today.
“Jack would probably tell you it’s not, but deep down, it is, I know that,” Lucarelli said.
Shanghai Bobby completed his undefeated five-race 2-year-old season with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The other two Eclipse finalists in his division are Uncaptured and Hopeful fourth-place finisher Overanalyze, neither of whom have run in a Grade I, much less won one.
That should make for a stress-free awards ceremony for the Starlight partners, after sweating through the disappointing female sprint announcement last year.
“I’d rather have it the way it is this year,” Lucarelli said with a chuckle. “I would think, based on his accomplishments, that there’s little doubt. Between him and Groupie Doll [in the female sprint], those are the two real sure ones.
“It’s fitting. Yeah, it’s nice to get an Eclipse trophy because it’s good to see the horse get his due and the recognition he deserves.”
In eight years as an owner, Lucarelli said Shanghai Bobby is the horse he treasures the most.
“I put him right up at the top,” he said. “Naturally, Octave is up there for sentimental reasons. But as far as talent and performance on the track, you can’t fault anything he’s done. He’s shown up every time, on a lot of different tracks. He’s definitely special for me. I wish [the Hopeful] was a Grade I, but hopefully, we can get another one with him.”
Shanghai Bobby, who has raced in blinkers all five starts, began breezing again on Dec. 17 and had a crisp 1:00.04 on Jan. 6, second-best of 23 at five furlongs at Palm Meadows that day.
“He’s been training with blinkers for a couple weeks now, and once they did that, he realized it was time to get back down to business, and his workouts have been very professional,” Lucarelli said.
Starlight and trainer Todd Pletcher have some contingency plans if he finishes out of the money in the Holy Bull.
Under the new points system for Kentucky Derby qualification, he has 20 and probably needs 20 more to make the Derby field.
If he does well in the Holy Bull, the Florida Derby would be up next.
“He’s never run on the Gulfstream track,” Lucarelli said. “We’ll have to see if the track doesn’t appeal to him. It’s really the only intangible right now.
“The timing would be good, there’s spacing for the Florida Derby, the Kentucky Derby will be his third race off a layoff, and if something happens and we feel we need to run him again, there’s the Fountain of Youth, unless the reason he loses is because he didn’t like the track. Then you would look somewhere else.”
Lucarelli and his wife, Barbara, flew to south Florida Friday morning for the Eclipse Awards, and they’ll watch Shanghai Bobby’s work on Sunday before flying back.
Lucarelli visited Shanghai Bobby earlier this winter.
“He definitely put on weight and is a little bigger,” he said. “He’s
average-sized. He’s got talent, but he’s got the determination and courage to go with it, which you don’t always see.”
BROWN ALSO IN LINE
Mechanicville native Chad Brown is in position to win an Eclipse for the second year in a row, but, unlike Starlight, his chance this year carries plenty of uncertainty.
His mare Zagora, who was third in the Diana before winning the Ballston Spa at Saratoga, closed out her season with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
The other finalists are Tapitsfly and Marketing Mix.
Brown won the female turf championship last year with Stacelita.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez spent Friday night under observation at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center after sustaining a bruised right eye in a spill at Aqueduct.
The injury wasn’t considered serious at first, but Dominguez’s agent, Steve Rushing, told the Daily Racing Form that he had a fractured skull.
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, did not appear to be seriously injured in the incident and was walked off the track.
Ramon Dominguez, who led the NYRA circuit in 2012 with 322 victories and led the nation in earnings with $25.6 million, is a two-time Eclipse winner who is a finalist today.
He is closing in on 5,000 career victories.
It’s Sunshine Millions Day at Gulfstream Park, where Mucho Macho Man will take on Ron the Greek and five others in the Classic.
Mucho Macho Man won the Sunshine Millions Classic last year before closing the season with a second to Fort Larned in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“He came out of the Breeders’ Cup really, really well,” trainer Kathy Ritvo told the Gulfstream Park press office. “He’s older and stronger now than last year. He will be wearing blinkers to keep him a little more focused. He’ll be on his schedule with a race about every two months. He’s been training great and loves this race track. As always we’ll let Mike [Smith] ride his race and say ‘good luck.’ ”
Mucho Macho Man hit the board in all six of his 2012 starts, winning the Grade II Suburban and Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap.
He was second to To Honor and Serve in the Woodward at Saratoga in his last start before the Breeders’ Cup.
Like Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek was second in one of the big Saratoga dirt route stakes, to Fort Larned in the Whitney.
The Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and Grade I Stephen Foster winner was fourth in the BC Classic.
“He seems to be doing well and he’s healthy,” trainer Bill Mott said. “He came back [from the Breeders’ Cup Classic] fine. We’re taking on a top horse in Mucho Macho Man. He’s been working very well, and it seems like he’s very sharp, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Emma’s Encore, who won the Grade I Prioress at Saratoga, is 5-1 in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint.
Brown has the 2-1 second choice, Last Gunfighter, in the Aqueduct feature, the Evening Attire.
Last Gunfighter won three straight after coming to Brown’s barn last summer, including the Raymond Earl Stakes at Aqueduct in December.
“When he arrived at the barn, Chad liked him,” Brown’s assistant, Cherie DeVaux, told NYRA. “He had previously run some good races, and he’s coming along and maturing and progressively getting better.”
Brigand, an allowance winner at Saratoga after having finished second in the Jerome in April, is the 9-5 favorite.
At Fair Grounds, Mark Valeski makes his much-anticipated return to the races after his 3-year-old season was waylaid by a chip in his knee.
He’s the 5-2 favorite in the Louisiana Handicap in his first start since winning the Grade II Peter Pan last May.
Prior to that, he was second in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby.
Also on the Fair Grounds card, Woodbine shipper Avie’s Quality is the 5-2 favorite in the Grade III LeComte for 3-year-olds off his win in the Display Stakes.
At Santa Anita, Private Zone is the 5-2 favorite in what should be a hotly contested Palos Verdes.
He’s been second in three straight stakes, most recently to Jimmy Creed in the Grade I Malibue on Dec. 26.
The Palos Verdes field also includes Comma to the Top, Justin Phillip and Drill.
On Sunday at Santa Anita, Grade I La Brea winner Book Review will make her 2013 debut in the Grade II La Canada.
She won an allowance at Saratoga last summer before finishing seventh in the Grade I Test.
Brigand is cross-entered in the TurnoftheCentury at Aqueduct on Sunday. He’s the 7-5 favorite.
On Monday, Beholder, the likely winner of the Eclipse for juvenile fillies, will make her 3-year-old debut and first start since winning the BC Juvenile Fillies in the Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita.
Aqueduct’s feature will be the Jimmy Winkfield, where Klaravich Stable’s Clawback is the even-money favorite after wiring the field on Dec. 13.
The buzz surrounding the 4-year-old filly Eblouissante, the half-sister to 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta, will only intensify after she won her second career start in an allowance on Thursday at Santa Anita.
The daughter of Bernardini out of Vertignieux went off as the 1-2 favorite and won by 13⁄4 lengths.
She won her career debut in November by 41⁄4 lengths.
PARK CITY LOOKS GOOD
Besides Shanghai Bobby, Starlight is excited about another of its
3-year-olds, Park City, who won by a length in his career debut at Saratoga on July 27, then suffered an ankle chip.
He got back to breezing on Christmas Eve at Palm Meadows and popped a nice 48.55 for four furlongs on Tuesday.
Lucarelli said Park City, like Shanghai Bobby a son of Harlan’s Holiday, is four or five works away from his 3-year-old debut, probably an allowance at Gulfstream.
Park City is playing catchup, but if all goes well, he could develop into a factor in the division by summertime.
“The key is to get him back on the track and get a good win to set him up for early spring or summer,” Lucarelli said. “He likes Saratoga, so the Travers would have to be something to look at. And he likes two turns, and he’s got talent.”