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Kentucky Derby and Horse Racing at The Downey Profile®

Florida Derby Big Three Facing Seven Others


One likes to stalk, one likes to be on or near the pace and one likes to close. All of them will try to win Florida's biggest horse race on Saturday.

Itsmyluckyday, Shangai Bobby and Orb are the stairstep morning line choices in Saturday's Grade I Besilu Stables Florida Derby featuring a field of 10.

Orb, winner of the Grade II Fountain of Youth, faces his biggest challenge yet facing for the first time Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby, the one-two finishers in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes.

John Velazquez takes the return call on Orb, who drew post 6 and was made the 3-1 third choice on the morning line.

A Kentucky homebred by Malibu Moon, Orb has blossomed since shipping into Payson Park from New York for the winter. He posted his third straight victory in the Fountain of Youth following a 1 1/8-mile allowance victory over the track on Jan. 26.

“He has made great strides since he got down here, starting with his first work at Payson,” said McGaughey. “I came down here with the idea that he probably wouldn’t be able to show his best with his style the way the Gulfstream track plays. My expectations were that he might win an ‘a other than’ allowance race and we’d get him back to New York and maybe get to run him in the Wood Memorial.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to win Saturday to go to the Derby, but he has to run the right kind of race. If he doesn’t, we won’t go. I want the horse to take me there,” McGaughey said.

As for how Saturday’s race might develop trainer won't try to change his colt. “The pace is out of my hands," McGaughey said. "We’ll let him run his race. His style and pedigree say he will go the distance (in Florida and Kentucky).”

Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby were separated by two lengths in the Holy Bull. Elvis Trujillo will be back aboard Itsmyluckyday for Eddie Plesa, Jr., and Rosie Napravnik flies in from New Orleans as the regular rider of Shanghai Bobby for Todd Pletcher.

Itsmyluckyday drew post 3 and was installed as the 2-1 favorite by longtime Gulfstream Park line-maker Chuck Streva. Shanghai Bobby breaks from the rail as the 5-2 second choice.

A son of Lawyer Ron purchased for $110,000 at the OBS March 2-year-old sales, Itsmyluckyday had plenty of experience as a 2-year-old, winning three of seven starts, including the Grade III Sapling Stakes sprinting at Monmouth Park and the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder around two turns

After a fourth-place effort on turf in the Dania Beach Stakes in mid-December, Itsmyluckyday romped home a 6 3/4-lengths winner of the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day before taking his game in the Holy Bull.

Plesa and Pletcher each decided to pass the Fountain of Youth and train up to the Florida Derby.

“If I had drawn a map for his training since the Holy Bull it couldn’t have gone any better than it has,” said Plesa. “I wouldn’t change a thing about what we planned for him.”

Shanghai Bobby sealed his Eclipse title winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a hard-fought head after a rather easy score in the Grade I Champagne Stakes. A substantial interest in the son of Starlight’s 2002 Florida Derby winner Harlan’s Holiday was sold Breeders’ Cup week to the Coolmore team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.

Shanghai Bobby was sent out the even-money favorite in the Holy Bull in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup. Breaking from post 1, just as he will on Saturday, he set the pace to upper stretch. Itsmyluckyday came alongside and drew away, leaving some with questions about Shanghai Bobby’s distance capabilities -- despite the fact that the Juvenile and the Holy Bull were run at the same distance.

Managing Starlight Racing partner Jack Wolf said the day before the post position draw, “He got beat fair and square, but I hope it will move him forward. I know there is a question if he can get the distance, but with his heart and determination, my expectations are as high as ever.”

A solid pace appears virtually assured from Merit Man with Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Bob Hess, Jr. The sprinting son of With Distinction makes his first start around two turns.

Merit Man won his first two starts at Del Mar and Santa Anita last year and was beaten a nose as the 1-to-2 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

In two starts at Gulfstream, he won the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes on New Year’s Day and finished a disappointing fourth in the seven-furlong, Grade II Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 2. Hess said after the race that he likely made a mistake attempting to see if the colt could rate. He's also said he believes that a young horse can often run his best race in the first attempt at two turns.

Frac Daddy came to Gulfstream for Ken McPeek with a big reputation after a strong runner-up effort behind Uncaptured in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November. However, the son of Scat Daddy disappointed when finishing a distant sixth in the Holy Bull -- although he was later determined to have grabbed a quarter rather badly. After that, he was diagnosed with a throat ulcer.

Corey Lanerie will be aboard Frac Daddy for the first time. McPeek said he continues to believe in the horse.

“I really haven’t changed my mind that he could be one of the best young horses I’ve ever had," the trainer said. "He’s over his problems and has trained great since then. I’m looking forward to this race.”

Another slightly under-the-radar contender will be Are You Kidding Me with Jose Lezcano getting the call for Roger Attfield.

A son of freshman sire Run Away and Hide, Are You Kidding Me was a good 2-year-old in Canada last year, finishing second in the Grade II Summer Stakes on turf and later a close-up fifth in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity on Polytrack at Keenland. Attfield had him entered to return in the Swale, but the trainer scratched after he drew the outside post 13.

Attfield found a spot for Are You Kidding Me a week later in a 1 1/16-mile turf race at Tampa Bay Downs on Mar. 9 and the colt ran a big race to finish second by a nose behind the highly-regarded Noble Tune, also making his 3-year-old debut. Are You Kidding Me will be racing on dirt for the first time in the Florida Derby.

“He got what he needed from the Tampa race to move him forward,” said Attfield. “We’ve always thought he had the ability to be a possible Derby-quality horse. He’s trained very well on dirt here at Payson, but whether they do well on it in a race you just don’t know until you try them.”

Dale Romans, coming off a career year as Eclipse champion trainer in 2012, will send out a pair of longshots with Pick of the Litter, to be ridden by Jesus Castanon, and the maiden Pontiff, Alan Garcia in the saddle.

Pick of the Litter is a son of Kitten’s Joy, the Romans-trained 2004 Eclipse champion turf runner and now highly-successful sire. Pick of the Litter has only run twice, finishing ninth in a turf race at Gulfstream on Feb. 2 and winning an ‘off the turf’ maiden special by 7 1/2 lengths going 1 1/8 mile on Feb. 27.

“He trained like one of my best 2-year-olds last year,” said Romans. “He finally looks like he’s put it all together. Even though he’s by Kitten’s Joy, I tried him on the turf, and it seems he likes the dirt better. He’s come back and worked well, and he’s going to be tough to handle in there.”

Pontiff is a regally bred son of Giant’s Causeway out of Preach and also has run only twice, finishing ninth in his debut on Jan. 5 after stumbling at the start and finishing second by a neck in a maiden special on Feb. 16. Both races were at Gulfstream. Romans races the colt for the same connections that own Dullahan. Romans is with Dullahan in Dubai this weekend.

Completing the field are Narvaez to be ridden by Paco Lopez for Agustin Bezara; and Indy Illusion with Rajiv Maragh named to ride for Barclay Tagg. Bezara saddled Reveron to a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby and a second-place finish behind Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby last year.

The Florida Derby winner will earn 100 points in the new system to determine the maximum field of 20 allowed to start in the ‘Run for the Roses.’ Second place will get 40, third 20 and fourth 10. Orb earned 50 points for his Fountain of Youth victory, virtually assuring him of a berth even if he gets nothing on Saturday.

The Florida Derby will be televised live during a one-hour show from 6-7 p.m. ET to be aired on NBC Sports Network. First race post is 12:30 p.m.

The Florida Derby will be one of seven stakes, six of them graded, on Saturday afternoon. Take Charge Indy, last year's Florida Derby winner, is expected to meet Grade I Travers winner Golden Ticket and Pants On Fire in the Grade III Skip Away. Grade II Davona Dale winner Live Lively will be favored in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, while two-time stakes winner Successful Song will be favored in the Grade II Rampart.

Edited Gulfstream Park release with additional content by Dick Downey

Saturday, R12
Grade I Florida Derby
Gulfstream Park
1 1/8 Mile
Post Time: 6:19 ET

Post   Horse ML Jockey Wt Trainer
1 Shanghai Bobby (KY) 5-2 R. Napravnik 122    T. Pletcher
2 Pick of the Litter (KY) 6-1 J. Castanon 122 D. Romans
3 Itsmyluckyday (KY) 2-1 E. Trujillo 122 E. Plesa Jr.
4 Pontiff (KY) 30-1 A. Garcia 122 D. Romans
5 Frac Daddy (KY) 20-1 C. Lanerie 122 K. McPeek
6 Orb (KY) 3-1 J. Velazquez 122 C. McGaughey
7 Indy's Illusion (KY) 20-1 R. Maragh 122 B. Tagg
8 Merit Man (FL) 15-1 K. Desormeaux 122 R. Hess
9 Are You Kidding Me (KY) 15-1 J. Lezcano 122 R. Attfield
10 Narvaez (KY) 20-1 P. Lopez 122 A. Bezara

All will run with Lasix.  Equipment Changes: 8 - Merit Man - Blinkers off.

Owners: 1 - Starlight Racing, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael B. Tabor, and Derrick Smith ; 2 - Carolyn Vogel ; 3 - Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa ; 4 - Donegal Racing ; 5 - Magic City Thoroughbred Partners ; 6 - Stuart S. Janney III and Phipps Stable ; 7 - Charles E. Fipke ; 8 - Bruce Chandler, Robert H. McKee, and James Glavin ; 9 - Ronald K. Kirk, Michael Riordan, John C. Bates, Anthony Shaw, Aaron Sones ; 10 - Stipa Racing Stable, Inc.

Breeders: 1 - Stonehaven Steadings; 2 - Gabriel Duignan, Crosshaven Bloodstock &Vision Thoroughbreds; 3 - Liberation Farm & Brandywine Farm; 4 - Claiborne Farm; 5 - Nancy M. Leonard Living Trust; 6 - Stuart S. Janney, III LLC. & PhippsStable; 7 - Charles Fipke; 8 - Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds &Stephen Barberino; 9 - John Bates, Ron Kirk, Greg McDonald &Riordan, Shaw & Sones; 10 - Hargus Sexton, Sandra Sexton &Silver Fern Farm, LLC

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