On a day that will be remembered for an older Kentucky Derby
champion's international success, a shadow was cast on one of the top prospects of 2013. Shanghai Bobby
had a 2-year-old season that was nothing short of spectacular. Undefeated in five starts and concluding his championship season with a well earned win in the
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the dark bay son of Harlan’s Holiday looked to be on
the fast track to success.
Clearly the cream of the crop in 2012, expectations were
high for 2013 but confidence and expectations can only take a horse so far. Even
though he boasted the most impressive resume on his 3-year-old birthday, he
would still have work to do to earn his ticket in the starting gate in Churchill
And so we once again bring up the new Kentucky Derby points
system. The old system would have confirmed Shanghai Bobby into the crown
jewel of American Racing six months early with his gritty win over He’s Had
Enough in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but now he may have to watch from the
sidelines. When Todd Pletcher first publicized his plans for the champ and his
path the Derby, I was concerned. Shanghai Bobby won the last three races of
his 2-year-old campaign in a two month time frame and now he was only being
asked to race twice in six months leading up to the most demanding task of his
young career. Aside from any doubts of his physical/mental readiness, there was
now the looming challenge that he still needed to earn enough points get to run
for the roses.
Entering 2013 as
the points leader, he had an edge on the competition in earning his birth in
the Derby. He had a margin for error.
The Holy Bull showed us the short layoff did not cost
Shanghai Bobby physical condition or mental sharpness. He ran faster than the
track record, but unfortunately for him, that performance still did not get him
the win. Itsmyluckyday also broke the track record that day and ran slightly quicker
than the champ to steal the win, the glory, and the ten points. Any point buffer
that Shanghai Bobby had was now gone. Some mentioned that
Bobby didn’t like breaking from the rail but that is what these races are for- to prep horses for the adversity they are likely to see later.
Sticking to his plan, Pletcher continued with his Palm
Meadows conditioning of Shanghai Bobby to prepare him for next prep race in the
Florida Derby. Perhaps he didn’t like the post position in the Holy Bull,
and a horse with the talent and speed of Shanghai Bobby had probably used up
his “bad luck card” in the earlier of his prep races, but then came draw for
the Florida Derby and again Shanghai Bobby found himself on the rail. Not
only would he now have to face Itsmyluckyday, but also an emerging talent by the
name of Orb.
Call it a bad trip, the post position, the added distance, or maybe just better competition, but the Florida Derby could yield no better than 5th place for the champ, and with 5th place comes no points. So now, having displayed perfection as a 2-year-old, Shanghai Bobby boasts only 24 Kentucky Derby points when it is predicted at least 30 will be required to run on May 4th.
Looking at the points system, it seems to be doing its job
of producing a field of the horses in their peak form as 3-year-olds. I will go
on record as saying I support the system for this reason. The shame of it is
that I believe the form of Shanghai Bobby to be better than he displayed in the Florida Derby. I believe he can win at 9 furlongs and maybe even further, but such
is the risk with only two prep races.
Could Shanghai Bobby have made the Derby if he prepped more
than twice? We may never know. Surly bad luck can’t last forever. Is it fair
that the 2-year-old champion will not get to run for the roses? Maybe not, but
this isn’t little league and not everyone gets a trophy for participating. Although
unlikely, we still have five weeks to go for Pletcher to call an audible and run
him again for points. If not, there is always the Preakness. That in itself is
nothing to be ashamed about, as many distinguished horses have skipped the Derby and used the Preakness as their springboard to 3-year-old success. He may not be in the Kentucky Derby, but I would be hard pressed to think that great things are still not in store for our 2-year-old champion.
As a closing remark, I will offer this as an interesting
hypothetical situation. What if Shanghai Bobby goes on to win the Preakness,
upsetting another chance for the Triple Crown, and proving he is a top class middle
distance horse? What will we say about the points system then?
Photo Credit to Jae C. Hong and the AP