Gulfstream Park News & Notes
Plesa Rooting for Trouble-Free Florida Derby
The Kentucky Derby hopes of Holy Bull (G3) winner Itsmyluckyday and Eclipse Award-winning Shanghai Bobby, among others, lie in their respective performances in Saturday’s $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1).
With so much at stake in Gulfstream Park’s marquee event, Itsmyluckyday’s trainer is hoping that the 10 entrants in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Derby prep have the opportunity to offer their best efforts to decide who continues on to Churchill Downs.
“I don’t want any extenuating circumstances to come in the way of everybody’s best race. I just want everybody to have a fair shot,” said Eddie Plesa Jr., who is scheduled to saddle Itsmyluckyday for an attempt at a third-straight stakes victory at the current Gulfstream meeting. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in my horse, as I’m sure as everybody else does, and I don’t want anything to come in the way of it.”
Despite his high ranking among the 2013 crop of 3-year-olds, Itsmyluckyday will likely need a first- or second-place finish in the Florida Derby to secure a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. The Todd Pletcher-trained Shanghai Bobby, a multiple Grade 1-stakes winner at 2, will likely need to finish no worse than third to qualify for the Derby under Churchill Downs’ new points system, which has assigned 180 points to the Florida Derby with 100 for first, 50 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
Having collected 50 points for his Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G1) triumph, the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb is the only horse in the Florida Derby field assured of a Kentucky Derby berth.
“I just want the best horse to win. I don’t want anybody to have to come out of that race – me, Todd, Shug or any of the others in the race – and say, ‘This happened to me; that happened to me,’ ” said Plesa, whose colt has been installed as the 2-1 favorite in the morning line over Shanghai Bobby (5-2) and Orb (3-1). “I just want everybody to have a fair shot at the race.”
Itsmyluckyday has emerged as one of the country’s top 3-year-olds this season, capturing the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby by nearly seven lengths on Jan. 1 before handing previously undefeated Shanghai Bobby his first career loss with a two-length triumph in the $400,000 Holy Bull on Jan. 26.
“I’ve got a horse that could not be feeling any better. He’s just tearing down the barn. He’s a very, very happy horse. He’s been away from the races for a little while and hasn’t missed a day of training, hasn’t missed a work,” Plesa said. “How do I feel? If I’d have known it would have gone this smooth, I would have been so happy.”
Shanghai Bobby’s Owner Focuses on the Positive
Although Shanghai Bobby suffered his first career loss in the $400,000 Holy Bull (G3), his connections don’t necessarily see his two-length defeat to Itsmyluckyday as a negative.
“I think from a numbers standpoint the Holy Bull was his best race. I think we got sort of the worst of the track and the pace scenario and got stuck in the one hole. Having said that, I give credit to the horse that beat us, Itsmyluckyday. He certainly has shown in his last two races that he’s the horse to beat as far as I’m concerned,” said Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf. “We were pleased with how Shanghai Bobby ran and how he’s been training.”
Shanghai Bobby, who won the Champagne (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) during his undefeated five-race championship campaign, will need to finish at least third in Saturday’s Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) to qualify for the 20-horse Derby field.
“There’s not much we can do at this point, the trainer’s got the horse ready and the horse is going to do his own speaking. It’s exciting for me and our partners to compete at these levels, so hopefully he shows up and has a good race,” said Wolf, whose stable sold a significant interest in the 2012 juvenile champion to Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
“The main thing is to get here and hopefully be lucky enough to have a good trip and win the race.”
The Todd Pletcher-trained colt hasn’t wowed observers during his recent workouts at Palm Meadows Training Center, but the son of 2002 Florida Derby winner has always done his best running in the afternoon.
“He’s never been much of a work horse in the morning, but he’s shown up in every one of his races, even though he lost his last race,” Wolf said. “He’s progressed along; Todd likes the fitness level that he’s got him to at this point. He’s carrying good flesh, his coat looks good, his energy level is good and we’re pretty excited.”
Narvaez Gives Bezara Second Shot at Florida Derby
Last year, Agustin Bezara saddled Reveron for a second-place finish behind Take Charge Indy in the Florida Derby at 31-to-1 odds. The 59-year-old trainer will take another shot at Gulfstream Park’s marquee race this year with Narvaez, a recent dead-heat winner of an entry-level allowance.
“They’re different types of horses, but they both have a lot of class,” Bezara said through interpreter Isaac Jiminez. “Reveron was more of a stalker and this horse is more of a come-from-behind horse.”
Narvaez closed from off the pace on March 9 to catch the Nick Zito-trained Declan’s Warrior at the wire for a share of first place, finishing 4 ½ lengths clear of the third-place finisher.
“From the beginning I knew he was a good horse, but he’s had some ups and downs.,” said Bezara, a prominent trainer in his native Venezuela before venturing to South Florida 3 ½ years ago. “In his last race, he sent me a message and told me he was ready to run.”
After finishing off the board in slop and over a yielding turf course at Calder in his first two starts, the son of Holy Bull broke his maiden over a fast main track at seven furlongs on Nov. 18. He finished fourth in a mile race at Gulfstream on Dec. 8 before scoring the dead-heat victory at 7 ½ furlongs.
Narvaez is set to make his first start around two turns while stepping up to Grade 1 company in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.
“This will be the first time at the distance, but he’s well-bred to go the distance. He’s out of a daughter of Unbridled,” said Bezara, referring to the 1990 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby champion. “He should handle it."