Florida’s road to the 2013 Kentucky Derby starts off with a bang Saturday as a talented field awaits recently crowned undefeated two-year old of the year champion Shanghai Bobby, when he makes his first start of the season in the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The G3 contest serves as the first of three preps for the Kentucky Derby at Gulfstream, along with the G2 Fountain of Youth on February 23rd and G1 Florida Derby on March 30th. Shanghai Bobby, a colt by Harlan's Holiday, has had six published workouts on the Palm Meadows tab since mid-December in preparartion for first start since holding off He's Had Enough by a head in the G1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last November. The perfect 5 for 5 Todd Pletcher runner has 20 points and is second on the Kentucky Derby point standings leader board. The champ leaves from the rail in the field of ten and he will find several promising 3-year-olds that have also targeted the race as their first stop on the Road to the Roses.
In the starting gate on Saturday will be Bern Identity, winner in 3 of 6 starts last year, including the G2 Sanford Stakes and was third to Shanghai Bobby in the G2 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. The Kelly Breen trained colt was a troubled runner-up finisher most recently in the November 17th G3 Delta Downs Jackpot, won by Goldencents, who subsequently won the G3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. Bern Identity had a strong five furlong work last Sunday at Palm Meadows in 59 1/5 seconds, which was the fastest time of 13 at the distance.
The Holy Bull also attracted Frac Daddy, who sports a win and two seconds from his three starts last year as a juvenile. He made his debut last October at Belmont with a second-place finish in the mud, before breaking his maiden by nearly 10 lengths at Churchill Downs back in November. Three weeks later, the gray colt was just outdueled by the more experienced Uncaptured in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill. The Ken McPeek-trained horse, who is eligible for a first-level allowance race on the undercard Saturday, literally worked his way into the field after an effortless five-furlong move in 1:01 1/5 on Monday.
Also joining the field is Dewey Square, a closing third in the aforementioned Kentucky Jockey Club, which was also his last start. He was victorious in his both his previous efforts, at Hoosier Park and then over the Churchill Downs strip. The sophomore recently posted a bullet five furlongs work in :59. He comes from the barn of Dale Romans, who was also recognized last weekend with an Eclipse Award as top trainer.
Rounding out the Holy Bull cast will be impressive Gulfstream Park Derby winner Itsmyluckyday, runner-up Sr. Quisqueyano, and fourth-place finisher Joshua's Comprise; Clearly Now, third in the G3 Display Stakes up at Woodbine; recent allowance winner Tulira Castle and maiden winner Fredericksburg.
Shanghai Bobby is at the head of the class coming off an undefeated campaign in his juvenile season. This colt answered the call at 5 different distances on 4 different tracks. In graded stakes, he dusted a respectable G2 field in the Hopeful at Saratoga including one of this race’s main rivals. He then stretched out to a mile in the G1 Champagne and handed it to Goldencents who has gone on to flatter him ever since. He locked up his Eclipse Award at the Breeders' Cup with a hard fought win. He was passed in the stretch, and it very much looked as though he was done. He dug in though, and came back to win impressively. Showing a tremendous display of heart - and no shortage of talent to go with it. Maybe the distance got to him at Santa Anita, but maybe it was the cross-country trip, but his stock seemed to drop all the same. As of January, he still has many doubters in regards to successfully getting the 10-furlong Derby distance, but there are just as many racing pundits still believing "Bobby" CAN prove those doubters wrong. He is pointed to a two-prep only campaign, so in all likelihood, the true answer will be revealed on Derby day itself. But providing there is no regression off his juvenile season, he’ll be tough to deny Saturday in his three-year old opener against a strong field, all with eyes on a bed of roses come the first Saturday in May.
NOTE: If I was compelled to bet against the favorite in this spot, I would hope for a fair price on Bern Identity. The colt didn't run a bad race in his six two-year old starts in which he posted some decent speed figures, and he seems to be getting better with added ground. He fell just short in his last to Goldencents, and it's been well documented what that winner has done since. Bern Identity has proven himself in graded stakes company and with moderate improvement, he's got the potential to wind up in the Holy Bull winner's circle.