A week after being honored as the Thoroughbred sport’s champion 2-year-old of 2012, Shanghai Bobby was the even-money favorite to win his sixth straight race in the Grade 3 stakes for Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby hopefuls. The Todd Pletcher-trained champion seemed to be well positioned in the No. 1 post to make a victorious 3-year-old debut in the 1 1/16-mile stakes, but the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained Itsmyluckday unleashed an impressive performance that broke the favorite’s undefeated streak, as well as a Gulfstream track record.
Itsmyluckyday, the 9-2 third choice who captured the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.81 to eclipse Endorsement’s 2012 record of 1:42.35.
“The winner was very good today. We were second best. We got a good trip and didn’t expect to break the track record by three-fifths of a second in order to win,” Pletcher said. “I was happy. We got the trip. We got the trip we anticipated.”
Shanghai Bobby, who concluded his 2012 campaign with a victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, broke alertly from his inside post to grab the early lead in the short run to the first turn under jockey Rosie Napravnik. Itsmyluckyday also broke well from the No. 7 post under Elvis Trujillo to gain a stalking position behind Shanghai Bobby and Clearly Now without losing too much ground on the first turn. That trio continued to show the way in the 10-horse field along the backstretch before Trujillo sent his mount after the pacesetter on the final turn. The son of Lawyer Ron pulled alongside Shanghai Bobby leaving the turn into the stretch and steadily drew away from the game pacesetter to the finish.
“I’m very thankful for Mr. Plesa, who gave me the opportunity to ride Itsmyluckyday,” said Trujillo, who rode the Kentucky-bred for the first time Saturday after Paco Lopez honored a commitment to ride troubled fifth-place finisher Bern Identity. “This was the trip Mr. Plesa and I hoped for.”
Trujillo heeded Plesa’s pre-race advice to a ‘T.’
“I told Elvis, ‘If you’re seven-wide on the first turn and four-wide heading for home, you’re not going to win the race.' I just wanted the best horse to win the race; I believe that’s what happened today. I didn’t see anybody that had any big excuses as far as wide trips. That’s what I wanted for our horse; I wanted a fair chance to win the race,” Plesa said.
Shanghai Bobby easily finished second, 11 ½ lengths ahead of Clearly Now and jockey Luis Saez.
“He ran well. He was relaxed on the lead and went right to the front today,” said Napravnik, who has been aboard Shanghai Bobby in all his starts. “When the other horse came to him, he tried really hard.”
Joshua’s Comprise, the longest shot at 132-1, finished fourth, followed by second choice Bern Identity, Frac Daddy, Dewey Square, Sr. Quisqueyano, Tulira Castle, and Fredricksburg.
Itsmyluckyday, who earned $240,000 for his victory, is owned by Plesa’s wife, Laurie and Trilogy Stable (Marion Montanari and David Melin).
“We’ll see how he comes out of the race, but I’d lean toward the Florida Derby (March 30),” said Plesa of the Gulfstream’s $1 million 3-year-old showcase. “But he’s going to tell me what he wants to do. Then I’ll sit down with our partners and we’ll discuss it.”
The Holy Bull victory makes Itsmyluckyday a high profile 3-year-old on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“Everybody’s excited because of the Kentucky Derby. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in that,” Plesa said. “I know (for) Marion Montanari and David Melin, this is on their bucket list.”
Bern Identity, a multiple graded-stakes winner, and Dewey Square, who had finished third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in his last start, both had excuses that compromised their performances.
“We put in a lot of hard work coming into this race and then it turns out it was all for naught because of the trouble right out of the gate,” said trainer Kelly Breen, whose colt was bumped repeatedly by Sr. Quisqueyano. “We’ll just go back to the drawing board and regroup.”
Romans said his colt didn’t handle dirt hitting him in the face.
“I know we have a good horse and we’re just going to stay the course,” trainer Dale Romans said.
The Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 23 will be the final prep for the Florida Derby. That race might be an option for a pair of late-developing colts that captured entry-level allowance races on Saturday’s program at Gulfstream.
Cerro posted a gate-to-wire victory in the third race, leading his trainer to starting thinking about putting the 3-year-old son of Mr. Greely on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
“That was a legitimate race, so I guess, obviously, you’ve got to start thinking about 3-year-olds on the dirt,” said Graham Motion, whose 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, started his 3-year-old campaign at Gulfstream.
Whereas Animal Kingdom ran on turf at Gulfstream in 2011, Cerro won his race by 2 ½ lengths over Gulfstream’s main track, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.29 under jockey Javier Castellano.
Like Animal Kingdom, who is slated to make his 2013 debut in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) on Feb. 9, Cerro is owned by Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International, which includes Olympic legend Michael Phelps.
Cerro broke his maiden at first asking on turf in Italy last June before joining Motion’s stable. After finishing fifth and fourth on turf, the Irish-bred colt finished third in an allowance race in his first start on dirt at Gulfstream on Jan. 1.
“I feel like every time he has run it’s been a process of getting him fit. I’ve kind of given him an excuse each time he’s run,” Motion said. “I think he’s on the improve.”
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey saddled Orb for a solid score in the fifth, despite having to be checked in traffic at the back of the field on the first turn.
“He’s not fast, so that’s going to happen sometimes. (Joel Rosario) was trying to keep him down in there. I’m glad, because that way he got a little schooling,” McGaughey said.
Rosario took the son of Malibu Moon to the outside on the backstretch, where they made steady progress to reach contention on the far turn. Orb swept to the lead leaving the turn into the homestretch. Pacesetter Duke of the City fought back in the stretch but fell short by a length under Paco Lopez.
”I think there’s a lot left there,” McGaughey said.
Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable’s homebred colt obviously appreciated the longer distance of Saturday’s race.
“It was the first time I was able to get him stretched out around two turns. When I brought him down here this winter, I said ‘He might be a nice horse when we get him back to Aqueduct this spring,’” said McGaughey, who has been impressed with Orb’s development. “I’m very pleased today.”
Orb broke his maiden in his fourth lifetime start at Aqueduct on Nov. 24.
“I’ve had trouble with him at the gate. The first two times I ran him he was terrible in the gate. He came up against some good horses, too, like Violence,” said McGaughey, who said he didn’t know where Orb would next race.