Stuart Janney III’s Orb emerged as an ascending star in this year’s
crop of Kentucky Derby (G2) and Triple Crown prospects after winning the
$400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23 by
a half-length for trainer Shug McGaughey.
But Orb faces his biggest challenge yet in Saturday’s $1 million
Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) when he will meet nine other
3-year-olds including Trilogy Stable and Laurie Plesa’s Itsmyluckyday
and Starlight Stable and partners’ Shanghai Bobby, the one-two finishers
Jan. 26 in the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3).
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez takes the return call on Orb in
the 62nd edition of the historic Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Orb drew
post position 6 and was made the 3-to-1 third choice on the morning
line. The Florida Derby will be televised live during a one-hour show
from 6-7 p.m. EDT to be aired on NBC Sports Network. First race post is
A Kentucky homebred by Malibu Moon, Orb has blossomed since shipping
into Payson Park from New York for the winter as he posted his third
straight victory in the Fountain of Youth following a 1 1/8 miles
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 (favoring speed). 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 (Kentucky)
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.” As for how Saturday’s race
might develop he said, “The pace is out of my hands. We’ll let him run
his race. His style and pedigree say he will go the distance (Kentucky
Derby at 1 ¼ miles).”
Itsmyluckyday and Shanghai Bobby finished one-two last out in the
Holy Bull Stakes (G1) at 1 1/16 miles, separated by two lengths. Jockey
Elvis Trujillo will be back aboard Itsmyluckyday for trainer Eddie
Plesa, Jr. and Rosie Napravnik flies in from New Orleans as the regular
rider of Shanghai Bobby for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Itsmyluckyday drew post 3 and was installed as the 2-to-1 favorite
by longtime Gulfstream Park line-maker Chuck Streva while Shanghai Bobby
breaks from the rail as the 5-to-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 Sapling Stakes (G3)
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 here in
mid-December, Itsmyluckyday romped home a 6 ¾ lengths winner of the
one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day before taking his game
to another level rallying to run by previously undefeated, 2012 Eclipse
champion 2-year-old favorite Shanghai Bobby 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 as Itsmyluckyday has posted an impressive series of workouts each
Saturday at Calder since then. “I wouldn’t change a thing about what we
planned for him.”
Shanghai Bobby sealed his Eclipse title winning the $2 million
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) by a hard-fought head on Nov. 3 at Santa
Anita after a rather easy score in the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont
Park. A substantial interest in the son of Starlight’s 2002 Florida
Derby winner Harlan’s Holiday was sold Breeders’ Cup week to the
international Coolmore team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and
Shanghai Bobby was sent out the even-money favorite in the Holy Bull
in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup, setting the pace to the
upper stretch until Itsmyluckyday came alongside and drew away, leaving
some with questions about Shanghai Bobby’s possible distance
Managing Starlight partner Jack Wolf said Tuesday, “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 for those concerned about it
with the entry of Bruce Chandler. Robert McKee and James Glavin’s Merit
Man with jockey Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Bob Hess, Jr.
as the son of With Distinction makes his first start around two turns
after establishing his reputation sprinting.
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 $500,000
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2 before shipping
east to train at Gulfstream over the winter.
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 Hutcheson Stakes (G2) on Feb. 2 with Hess suggesting after
the race that he likely made a mistake attempting to see if the colt
could rate. He also said he believed that a young horse can often run
his best race in the first attempt at two turns.
Magic City Thoroughbreds’ Frac Daddy came to Gulfstream with a big
reputation for trainer Ken McPeek after a strong runner-up effort behind
Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs
in late 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 and to have been
suffering from a throat ulcer at the time.
Jockey Corey Lanerie will be aboard Frac Daddy for the first time
and McPeek 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.
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 Ronald Kirk,
Michael Riordan, John Bates, Anthony Shaw and Aaron Sones’ Are You
Kidding Me with jockey Jose Lezcano getting the call for Hall of Fame
trainer 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 Summer
Stakes (G2) on turf and later a close-up fifth, beaten only 2 ¾ lengths,
in the Breeders’ Futurity (G2) on Polytrack at Keenland in October.
Attfield had him entered to return in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes
(G2) here on Mar. 2, but scratched after he drew the outside post 13.
Attfield found a spot for him a week later in a 1 1/16 miles turf
race at Tampa Bay Downs on Mar. 9 and he ran a big race to finish second
by a nose behind 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) runner-up 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
(Park), but whether they do well on it in a race you just don’t know
until you try them.”
Trainer Dale Romans, coming off a career year as Eclipse champion
trainer in 2012, will send out a pair of longshots in the Florida Derby
with Carolyn Vogel’s Pick of the Litter to be ridden by Jesus Castanon
and Donegal Racing’s maiden Pontiff and 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 here on
Feb. 2 and winning an ‘off the turf’ maiden special by 7 ½ lengths
going 1 1/8 miles on Feb. 27.
“He trained like one of my best 2-year-olds last year,” said Romans
of Pick of the Litter. “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 during the Gulfstream meet, 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.
“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
Completing the field are Stipa Racing’s Narvaez to be ridden by Paco
Lopez for trainer Agustin Bezara and Charles Fipke’s Indy's Illusion with
Rajiv Maragh named to ride for trainer Barclay Tagg. Bezara saddled
Walter Stipa’s Reveron to finish second by a length behind Take Charge
Indy in the Florida Derby last year with favorite Union Rags third.
The Florida Derby winner will earn 100 points on the new system to
determine the maximum field of 20 allowed to start in the ‘Run for the
Roses.’ Orb earned 50 points for his Fountain of Youth victory,
virtually assuring him of a berth with even a minor award Saturday.