Once again, Shanghai Bobby finds himself between a rail and a hard place.
The 2012 champion juvenile colt will make his second start as a 3-year-old today, a final crack at a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and for the second time he drew the rail, this time in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
The Florida Derby is scheduled to go to post at 6:19 p.m., followed by today’s other major U.S. prep, the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds at 6:44. The races will be broadcast live as part of an hour-long show on NBCSN.
Shanghai Bobby, co-owned by Starlight Racing and Coolmore, also drew the No. 1 post in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Jan. 26 and was second to Itsmyluckyday, the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Florida Derby.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik, who has ridden Shanghai Bobby in all six of his starts, sent him to the lead in the Holy Bull, and Itsmyluckyday stalked and drew away inside the eighth pole as he and Shanghai Bobby finished well clear of the rest of the field.
The nine-furlong Florida Derby is a sixteenth of a mile longer than the Holy Bull, but Gulfstream will shift the finish line instead of the start, putting Shanghai Bobby in virtually the same predicament he faced in the Holy Bull.
“That would’ve been the last number we would’ve asked for,” said Don Lucarelli, who co-manages Starlight with Jack Wolf. “The gate is so close to the turn. It’s definitely not where we wanted to be.”
Starlight did want to be in position to get the son of Harlan’s Holiday to the Kentucky Derby, though, and that’s where he stands, as long as he finishes at least third today.
That would give him enough points to qualify for the starting gate.
The distance continues to be a concern, even though Lucarelli liked the way Shanghai Bobby, trained by Todd Pletcher, galloped out in the Holy Bull.
The partners want to get to Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May, but they aren’t hell-bent on doing so at all costs.
“Todd’s great at setting the programs and the schedules for these horses, and that’s what he’s done with Shanghai Bobby with sort of a disregard for points and more centered on what he thinks is his best race pattern for the horse,” Wolf said during a national teleconference. “So we probably do need some more points. Are we on the right schedule? I think so, and I think the horse is doing very well and it should be good to go this Saturday.”
Shanghai Bobby is the 5-2 second choice and will also have to deal with the late-running Fountain of Youth winner Orb, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.
The sprinter Merit Man, second by a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, will be racing longer than seven furlongs for the first time and appears to be the controlling speed for the early stages of the Florida Derby.
Ideally, Napravnik and Shanghai Bobby will have to try to find a way to portion his speed behind Merit Man from the tricky rail position, Lucarelli said.
He believes that Gulfstream had a dead rail for the Holy Bull, and just wants a fair track today.
If it turns into some version of a speed duel, that could play in favor of Itsmyluckyday, who will break from the No. 3 post under Elvis Trujillo, or Orb and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
“I think the eight [Merit Man] is going to go to the top of them, and then hopefully, there’s enough separation where Rosie can get off the rail on the backstretch,” Lucarelli said. “If we run our race and the horse improves off his last, then he’ll definitely be in the mix at the wire.
“He’s got to show that he’s got the mile and an eighth in him. Then we’ll have good reason to go forward and take a shot.”
Despite being an undefeated 2-year-old champion who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and certainly ran a credible race against Itsmyluckyday in the Holy Bull, Shanghai Bobby has dropped back a bit in Pletcher’s powerhouse stable.
“Todd may rank some of his horses other than Shanghai Bobby above Shanghai Bobby,” Wolf said. “And the odds in the Derby pool would indicate that. I think he closed at, like, 18-1. So I think a lot of people have put him on the back burner, and maybe rightfully so, and if they’re right, hopefully they can be proved wrong in Saturday’s race.”
“It’ll be sort of bittersweet in one sense; we have Derby aspirations for this horse, and if that’s not the case, then we can easily say we have the best miler in the country,” Lucarelli said. “Then you can look at the King’s Bishop.
“But I don’t want to go down that path yet. We’re not even thinking about that yet.”
Unlike Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday, Orb already has plenty of points to make the Derby, so the pressure is off of him in that regard.
Still, he represents one of the best of rare Derby prospects for McGaughey, whose owners, the Phipps Stable and Stuart Janney, prefer to take their time with their horses and are seemingly immune to Derby fever.
McGaughey has started just one horse in the Run for the Roses since 1989, Saarland, who was 10th in 2002.
In 1989, the Lexington, Ky., native saddled Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring to second- and third-place finishes behind Sunday Silence.
“I can’t say that probably every morning I get up and do this, and that I’m not dreaming of winning the Kentucky Derby,” McGaughey said during the teleconference.
“A lot of guys, that’s their goal, is to get to the Derby, and we don’t really kind of do it that way, even though I want to get there. I want the horse to take me. We’re excited about the opportunity of this weekend, hoping that Orb will run well enough to take us there. But like I say, if he doesn’t, we’re not running him to be an also-ran.”
One long shot who perhaps is under the radar is Frac Daddy, who grabbed a quarter in the Holy Bull and finished sixth of 10.
Trainer Kenny McPeek said that Frac Daddy, who had a bullet work at Gulfstream on March 16, is fully recovered and ready to go.
“He ripped it up really bad. He bled all over everything that night,” McPeek said. “It kind of knocked people’s thoughts about how good he was, and we’ve got to get him back out there and prove it again with him. The Florida Derby’s a good spot for him, because he’s going to run against some toughies.”
There are six stakes on the Florida Derby card, including the Gulfstream Park Oaks and an interesting renewal of the Skip Away for older horses.
Live Lively will put her three-race winning streak on the line in the Oaks in a rematch against Dreaming of Julia, trained by Pletcher for Stonestreet Stables.
Live Lively beat her by a length and a half in the Grade II Davona Dale on Feb. 23.
Dreaming of Julia broke her maiden at Saratoga Race Course and was undefeated before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Among those in the 10-horse Skip Away are Golden Ticket, who dead-heated with Alpha in the Travers; Take Charge Indy, who won the Florida Derby last year before finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby; and Cigar Street, co-owned by Rashard Lewis of the Miami Heat.
Take Charge Indy was third in the Donn Handicap behind Graydar and Bourbon Courage, who have each opted to run in the New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds today on the Louisiana Derby card.
Cigar Street, fourth in the Louisiana Derby last year, has won two straight allowances at Gulfstream.
Fair Grounds’ primary Kentucky Derby prep has drawn a full field of 14 that is so balanced that 3-1 makes Revolutionary the favorite.
The Withers winner is one of two from Pletcher, along with Palace Malice, who broke his maiden impressively at Saratoga last year and just missed in finishing third by a half-length behind I’ve Struck a Nerve in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds.
I’ve Struck a Nerve subsequently was dropped from the Derby trail due to injury, but the Risen Star runner-up, Code West, is back for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert never having finished out of the money in six career starts.
The field also includes 8-1 Titletown Five, who is trying to get two NFL Hall of Famers and former Green Bay Packers teammates, Louisville native Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, to the Kentucky Derby for the first time.
Also at 8-1 is Departing, trained by Al Stall Jr. for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The son of War Front is undefeated in three starts after winning the Texas Heritage at Sam Houston.
The Louisiana Derby card is loaded with three other graded stakes.
In the Fair Grounds Oaks, So Many Ways will try to get back on the winning track after finishing third in the Primal Force off a long layoff. Her previous starts were wins in the Schuylerville and Spinaway at Saratoga.
She’ll be up against it with the likes of 6-5 favorite Flashy Gray, who was second to Rose to Gold in the Honeybee at Oaklawn Park, and 9-5 Unlimited Budget, trained by Pletcher for owner Mike Repole.
Unlimited Budget is undefeated in three starts, including the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct last November and the Grade III Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds on Feb. 23.
Besides Graydar and Bourbon Courage, the Skip Away field includes Flat Out, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup the last two years, and Mark Valeski, no worse than second in his last seven starts, most recently a win in the Mineshaft at Fair Grounds.
Two winning streaks collide in the Mervin Muniz on the turf, as Optimizer and Amira’s Prince head a field of 10.
Amira’s Prince hasn’t lost in three North American starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, all at Gulfstream, and Optimizer is coming off wins in the Fair Grounds Handicap and Colonel Bradley, both at Fair Grounds, for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
DUBAI WORLD CUP
The stakes-rich card, totalling $27.5 million in purses, for the Dubai World Cup at Meydan kicks off at 9:10 a.m. ET today with the Godolphin Mile.
Post time for the UAE Derby, which carries 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, is 10:25, followed by the World Cup at 2:05 p.m.
The World Cup has drawn champion mare Royal Delta and 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs, who owns a share of Dullahan through Donegal Racing, traveled to Dubai on Monday to watch his colt, who was third in the Derby last year, run in the big race, which has a purse of $10 million.
“Had a great work last week and likes the track a great deal,” Bryan said in a text message. “Have a HOF [Hall of Fame] jockey on him and can’t ask for any more than that.”
Dullahan, who will be on his favorite surface, synthetic, will be ridden by Gary Stevens.
All three of Dullahan’s career victories have been in Grade I races on synthetic.
He won the Pacific Classic against older horses last year.
Dullahan got a prep over the Meydan main track three weeks ago and was 11th of 14 in the Burj Nahaar under Kieren Fallon.
“U.S. horses have had no success since the switch from Nad Al Sheba dirt course to the synthetic surface at Meydan,” Stevens told the Dubai Racing Club. “But in the Dubai World Cup, Dullahan is a specialist on a synthetic surface, with three wins back home on it, including the Pacific Classic.
“His only defeat was his prep run here at Meydan, where he needed the race, and where things — through no fault of his jockey that day — didn’t go right for him. Dullahan has a great finish over the final 600 [meters], and my job is to put him in the right place in the race to produce that.”
Royal Delta, ninth in the Dubai World Cup last year, is the 4-1 second choice behind 7-2 Hunter’s Light, winner of five of his last six, the last two at Meydan.
After winning the Spiral last weekend, Black Onyx was one of 13 late Triple Crown nominees for the fee of $6,000.
On Wednesday, he became the first of the major Derby contenders to ship to Churchill Downs.
In a bit of a Hail Mary attempt, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker also paid the late nomination fee for his gelding, Undrafted, who has been third in all four of his stakes races, most recently the Swale.
Two undefeated 3-year-olds, Pletcher’s Tampa Bay Derby winner Verrazano and Rudy Rodriguez’s Gotham winner Vyjack, will put their records on the line in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct next weekend.
They’ll face Mechanicville native Chad Brown’s Derby prospect, Normandy Invasion, who was a hard-closing fifth after a troubled trip in the Risen Star.
The Wood is also expected to draw Gotham runner-up Elnaawi, Private Terms winner Mr Palmer, Always in a Tiz, Freedom Child and Quinzieme Monarque.
On the filly side, Princess of Sylmar, owned by Schenectady native Ed Stanco, is pointing toward the Gazelle on the Wood card as she pursues a spot in the Kentucky Oaks.
The Gazelle is also expected to draw Close Hatches, Let Me Entertain U, Manuka Honey, Private Ensign, Watrugonnadorosie and possibly Walkwithapurpose.
AROUND THE TRACKS
With a win by Jake Jourdan in the fourth at Fair Grounds on Thursday, trainer Steve Asmussen moved past Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg into second on the all-time victories list, with 6,418. . . .
Sunny Desert will look to start another winning streak in today’s feature at Aqueduct, the Broadway, where she is 3-5.
Shaker High School graduate John Morrison trains the 5-1 third choice in the Broadway, Lady On The Run, who will be making her 2013 debut.
“She runs well fresh,” Morrison said. “It looks like a small but very competitive field.” . . .
Breeders’ Cup Classic and Whitney winner Fort Larned is pointing to the April 13 Oaklawn Handicap.
In his 2013 debut, he threw Brian Hernandez and ran off in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Following an appointment with his neurosurgeon on Monday, jockey Ramon Dominguez said he will continue physical and cognitive therapy for a fractured skull sustained in a spill at Aqueduct on Jan. 18.
“While he [doctor] is very pleased with the progress I have made, I am not completely healed and need to continue my therapy,” Dominguez told NYRA. “I feel very good physically and mentally, but my injury was serious, and I need to take more time to allow myself to fully recover.”
Dominguez said he will continue to follow-up with his doctors, and that there is no timetable for his return to riding.