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Blog - GAMBLING

Itsmyluckyday (outside) edged Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull Stakes in January. Photo courtesy Coglianese Photos/Eleanor Gustafson

By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase

The 64th running of the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby is one of just seven races to award the winner 100 points as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which guarantees a horse a starting spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May if their owner and trainer choose to run. Drawing a field of 10 not only running for points but the winner’s share of the $1 million purse, this year’s Florida Derby has two levels of contenders. The first level of contenders is made up of horses proven in important prep races this year. The other level is comprised of horses needing to finish first or second in order for their connections to even consider moving forward on the path to the Kentucky Derby. Orb leads the first group, coming off a visually impressive win at Gulfstream Park in the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month. Itsmyluckydayand last year’s 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby are the other two in that top tier, having just finished first and second, respectively, in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January and then passing the Fountain of Youth to prepare for this important test.

Of the rest, Frac Daddy has the best credentials, having finished second by a neck in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall. However, following a poor effort in the Holy Bull and some physical setbacks, it is unclear whether he can recover his 2012 form. Merit Man won the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream in January before a fourth-place finish in the Hutcheson Stakes. However, he is attempting to run two turns for the first time in a race in which all the rest have already done so. Are You Kidding Me Me finished second in the Summer Stakes last September and enters the race off a nose defeat following five months off, so he might improve and run competitively. Both Pontiff and Pick of the Litter face steep class tests having just won for the first time and moving right into Grade 1 stakes company. Narvaez just won an allowance-level race but is also being asked to make a major step up in class. Last but not least, Indy’s Illusion has run twice recently at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Florida Derby, missing by a neck in his most recent race and with a shot to improve markedly and have an impact.

Contenders:

Itsmyluckyday has improved in each of his last four races, including an impressive victory over heavy favorite Shanghai Bobby on Jan. 26 in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Having earned a career-best and field-high 109 Equibase Speed Figure in that effort, Itsmyluckyday improved his record in two-turn races on the main track to 3-for-4 and stamped himself a strong contender on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Not only that, but Itsmyluckyday was flattered when Holy Bull third-place finisher Clearly Now won the Swale Stakes in his next start. As a son of Lawyer Ron, who won the 2006 Arkansas Derby as well as both the 2007 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward Stakes, Itsmyluckyday should have no issues with the distance of the Florida Derby nor the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby six weeks from now. Therefore, Itsmyluckday should be the one to beat in this year’s Florida Derby.

Orb is also on a pattern of improvement, with more expected as he makes his third start of the year. That being said, the career-best 101  Equibase Speed Figure Orb earned last month winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes is a bit short of how fast Itsmyluckyday ran winning the Holy Bull. Just the same, Orb is an example of how much improvement top 3-year-olds can show from one race to the next when moving forward by nine points from his previous effort. If Orb shows similar improvement in the Florida Derby - to the 110 Equibase Speed Figure level - he could come together with Itsmyluckyday at the finish line and provide us with an exciting finish that could be duplicated on the first Saturday in May in the Kentucky Derby.

ORB WINNING FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Fountain -Hero

Photo by Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

Indy’s Illusion may be the upsetter of note, because even though he finished second in an allowance level race in his most recent start on March 2, the 98 Equibase Speed Figure earned that day is better than the 92 Equibase Speed Figure Orb earned when victorious at the equivalent level prior to his winning the Fountain of Youth. As a son of 1992 Santa Anita Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy (who missed the Derby because of a sore hoof but went on to win the Belmont Stakes and earn Horse of the Year honors), Indy’s Illusion could blossom into a top Derby contender and should be with a chance to run very well in this event.

Shanghai Bobby won the first five races of his career including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named champion 2-year-old male of 2012. Returning to the races in the Holy Bull Stakes in January, Shanghai Bobby wasn’t disgraced when second to Itsmyluckyday, who had already raced in 2013. Having earned a 106 Equibase Speed Figure in the Holy Bull, Shanghai Bobby appears capable of surpassing his career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure, which was earned when winning the Champagne Stakes last fall. On the other hand, in nearly all of his victories Shanghai Bobby has been first or second in the early stages. In this race, with Merit Man stretching out from shorter races and probably seizing the lead from the start, Shanghai Bobby may be forced to run faster than average in the early stages, which may result in him being vulnerable to being passed in the stretch.

The rest of the field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Are You Kidding Me (103), Frac Daddy (105), Merit Man (100), Narvaez (88), Pick of the Litter (87) and Pontiff (89). 

My Selections:

Itsmyluckyday

Orb

Indy’s Illusion

Shanghai Bobby

$1 Million Besilu Stables Florida Derby

Saturday, Gulfstream park, Race 12, 6:19 p.m. ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/8 Miles

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

ML Odds

1

Shanghai Bobby

R Napravnik

T A Pletcher

5-2

2

Pick of the Litter

J L Castanon

D L Romans

6-1

3

Itsmyluckyday

E Trujillo

E Plesa Jr.

2-1

4

Pontiff

A Garcia

D L Romans

30-1

5

Frac Daddy

C J Lanerie

K G McPeek

20-1

6

Orb

J R Velazquez

C R McGaughey III

3-1

7

Indy's Illusion

R Maragh

B Tagg

20-1

8

Merit Man

K J Desormeaux

R B Hess Jr.

15-1

9

Are You Kidding Me

J Lezcano

R L Attfield

15-1

10

Narvaez

P Lopez

A C Bezara

20-1

All carry 122 pounds

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

Image Description

Ellis Starr

National Racing Analyst for Equibase, Fan Education Specialist, Bettor, Magister of Equine Prognostication (Handicapper).

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