By Dick Downey
He doesn't have to win the race to go on to the Kentucky Derby -- he just needs to run the right race kind of race. Still, there's a good argument that he will win the race.
But will Orb get -- or even need -- a fast pace on the front end of the Grade I Florida Derby in order to win?
Merit Man is expected to set the pace but try to slow it down with blinkers off. So the degree of the early pace could depend on what other horses do as well.
Shanghai Bobby and Pick of the Litter break from posts 1 and 2, respectively. Shanghai Bobby also had post 1 in the Grade III Holy Bull. He and Rosie Napravnik soon found themselves on the lead, going a half-mile in :46.68 and six furlongs in 1:10.69. It’s not hard to see that sort of thing happening again. Pick of the Litter, who pressed the pace last time out, could find himself in nearly the same position as Shanghai Bobby because of his inside draw.
Itsmyluckyday shouldn't be too far off the leaders, assuming they aren’t at breakneck speed in the early going like we saw in the Grade II Fountain of Youth. Orb won that race after being 5 1/2 lengths off the pace after six furlongs timed in 1:08.85.
Unfortunately, Shanghai Bobby may be up against it because of his post position. He probably needs to commit early while running the longest he’s ever been asked while having possible distance limitations on the bottom of his pedigree. Or he must take back and try to change his running style. The best he can hope for is to sit off a moderate pace -- yet he might be forced into a pace that’s more than moderate.
Wow, Pick of the Litter won impressively his last time out – and it did it in a good time at the Florida Derby distance of 1 1/8 mile. But this will be only his third start. Is he good enough to get it done? Maybe so. But he and Jesus Castanon are going to have to commit from post 2, and, again, it gets tricky.
Orb has drawn very well, post 6, and it will be John Velasquez’ job to gauge the front early speed. Try not to get be too far back if it's moderate, just run the same race you did last time if it's fast up there, and let Orb do his thing in the stretch. But Orb does not need a fast early pace. In his nine-furlong allowance race two races back, which Orb won, he was only a half-length off the pace after six furlongs run in 1:13.58.
I find Indy’s Illusion to be attractive. In his first race of the year on Jan. 26, Orb defeated him by 3 3/4 lengths. Indy’s Illusion came back to run a good one at the Florida Derby distance. The compelling thing about him is that a trainer regarded as conservative, Barclay Tagg, entered him -- without any advance hoopla -- for Charles Fipke. Both these men have been there and done that on the Derby Trail. And Tagg won the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide. This looks like more than a vanity entry to me.
I’ve heard some concern that the timing of the Florida Derby may not suit Itsmyluckyday's race pattern. However, trainer Eddie Plesa, Jr. says that things have gone as well as possible, as if he wrote the script. This horse was super-impressivde winning the Gulfstream Park Derby and the Holy Bull. He set a track record in the latter race. If those weren’t peak performances, he probably wins on Saturday. He needs to win or run second to be assured of getting enough Kentucky Derby points. As does Shanghai Bobby.
Merit Man is not the only horse in the Florida Derby running two turns for the first time. So is Narvaez. It’s Pontiff’s third career start, and he seeks to break his maiden in this grade I race.
Frac Daddy could be stalking not too many lengths from the lead as the race unfolds. He’s had issues with his foot and a throat ulcer. We are assuming those are fully resolved. Are You Kidding Me would be expected to run in the next flight. It’s the first race on dirt for the talented synthetic/turf runner.
3. INDY’S ILLUSION
4. PICK OF THE LITTER
I hope Shanghai Bobby runs a big race and busts up these selections!