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55,000 Furlongs to the Finish

A Kentucky Derby Void of a Healthy 2 Year Old Champion?

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 Downs.


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 


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Older Comments about A Kentucky Derby Void of a Healthy 2 Year Old Champion?...

Is it too early to talk about PREAKNESS probables? "Bobby" heads this list followed by Palace Malice and Departing.
the proclivites that evoke votes for 2 year/old are no where the same as the that same award the next year...UNTIL these differing champions align, they will remain as they are now, as different as night is to day.
Whether we are talking about Bobby or another year, I think the Derby field is missing something when the 2YO champ doesn't run.
MANY 2 year old champs were nothing by Derby time...Many more were exposed at distance limitation....There is TOO MUCH EMPHASIS placed on the precocsious babies like Houston, Dehere, Talkin Man...colts that are never going to make it with their older brothers as the only thing that wins for them is quick, and topped out, maturation and all their associates catch up by Winter on the next season.
The point I was trying to make was, without the sprinter's or a horse like SB to set a fair pace, your leaving the race to the lone speed. How is that exciting year after year. Even if there were two front runners, unless they can't rate, their not getting into a speed duel. That was the best part of having SB, he can't rate, and once he was checked that hard he was done.
But, since the inception of the BC Juvenile, only one two-year-old champ has come back to wear the roses. Seems the structure of the point system isn't what you'ev done last year, but, what have you done lately?
always the Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland
hard to deny a two year old champ from the chance to be big at three.
If he doesn't make the Derby then Todd is to blame. There are other races he could have run in (Sam F. Davis, Sunland Derby, Rebel, etc.) that would have given him easier competition and more points. Todd has a lot of horses and trying to avoid running them against each other could end up costing SB.
He won't make the gate. Regardless of his ride, he was distracted going to the post and looked like a boy among men
They all discount the colt who had trouble....If this one matches up that first Saturday in May, he sitll gets the single pass
Am I the only one who saw bobby checked hard and then boxed in? Maybe the points system is good,maybe? Now that the sprinters have been eliminated, along with SB, why are they bothering to race against the lone speed in the race? Maybe they're hoping he'll fall, or draw the #1 PP and run into the metal rail, because I don't see any other scenario where he loses. When Preakness time rolls around the beaten bunch will be begging for a sprinter or SB to be entered. If this scenario unfolds there will never be another triple crown champion, unless Verrazano does it this year which if he's matured just a little is very possible. If one thinks Orb is going to run this horse down without any pace help up front GL to those of you who bet him.
Didn't perform well except for a small number of horses. If Bobby doesn't get in which looks likely, it may well change how trainers condition their two yr olds and look at the two yr old season completely differently.
I am not terribly surprised if this is true. From my vantage point of the 50's on, many of the top two yr olds never made it into the gate through injury and those that did didn't perform very well.
Stage 1 of the Chaos Theory that I suggested in an article from a few months ago is now complete. Stage 2 might be a whole lot more difficult, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

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Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 


Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 


I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   


The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings. 

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