Grade I Florida Derby Analysis, Gulfstream Park – 3/30/13

The Florida Derby will be contested at nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park Saturday afternoon. It is one of the three major Kentucky Derby preps to be run on Saturday, along with the Louisiana Derby and the UAE Derby. 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points will be divided among the top four finishers. It’s difficult for me to be completely unbiased (note the photo attached to my initial Kentucky Derby Top Ten Contenders list) when it comes to the analysis of the Florida Derby, but I’ll do my best.

By most pundits’ estimation, the Florida Derby is a three-horse race. In my estimation, there is one “outsider” that poses a serious threat to the “Big 3”.

Shanghai Bobby will be making the second start of his three-year old racing season. The reigning Juvenile Champion ran an admirable race in his return in the Holy Bull in late January, but he wasn’t quite good enough to beat Itsmyluckyday…who also happens to be running in the Florida Derby. He’s been working very well leading up to this race, but the same question remains that I’ve always had about him – I don’t think he wants to go the nine furlongs of the Florida Derby, never mind the ten furlongs of the Kentucky Derby. He has brilliant talent, but his breeding suggests that added distance isn’t going to be his friend. He’ll take his fair share of money, but I just don’t think he’s going to relish the distance.

Itsmyluckyday is atop numerous Kentucky Derby lists, and it’s hard to argue with anyone that puts him there. In his two main track starts at Gulfstream Park, Itsmyluckyday has run a hole in the wind, recording Beyer Speed Figures of 102 and 104. He’s another runner that has been training lights out leading up to this spot. Having said that, I have two questions about him that need to be answered at some point. The first question could be answered tomorrow – like Shanghai Bobby, I’m not sold on his desire to go longer than nine furlongs. I don’t think tomorrow’s distance should be an issue, but anything past that is a great concern to me. My second question is probably the more concerning one to me, and that will not be answered tomorrow. Itsmyluckyday’s two big efforts in his career have been over the Gulfstream Park main track…if you were to take those two efforts away, his resume wouldn’t even put him in the discussion of major contenders in this race. Gulfstream is notorious for producing “Gulfstream freaks” that, for one reason or another, take to the track like a pig takes to mud. He has plenty going for him tomorrow, but I’m going to pass.

If Orb was not running in this race, Pick of the Litter would be my pick. After an absolute dud in his career debut on the turf, Pick of the Litter broke his maiden in a nine furlong race that was taken off the turf by more than seven lengths. He’s proven at the distance, and his breeding suggests that distance in general shouldn’t be an issue. The 95 Beyer Speed Figure leaps off the page, considering that was only the second start of his career. I think he is extremely intriguing and he’ll be my runner-up for tomorrow’s race. If he runs big tomorrow, he may very well crack my Derby Top Ten list next week. Pick of the Litter is a very interesting runner in the Florida Derby.

Bias aside, I truly think Orb is the best horse in the Florida Derby, and that’s why he’s my selection. Orb is proven at the nine furlong trip, which is something almost no other horse in the field can boast. With the addition of Merit Man to the field, the pace up front should be strong – if not very strong. This suits Orb’s running style very nicely, seeing as he’s closer of sorts. I do believe he’ll be closer than he has been in the majority of his races, simply because the longer distance is likely to slow the early fractions down somewhat. I’d imagine he sits five to six lengths off the leaders and makes his big move heading into the far turn. I do think Orb wins tomorrow’s race, but I also realize this isn’t the major goal. Unlike the majority of the field, Orb is all but assured his starting spot in the gate five weeks from now in Louisville. Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday need points if they are to get into the Kentucky Derby, so they’re more likely to be completely wound up for this race. Obviously I hope and believe he’ll win tomorrow, but in the grand scheme of things, Orb just needs to put forth a respectable effort in tomorrow’s Florida Derby. If he does, it’s all systems go for the First Saturday in May…

SELECTION: 6 – Orb, John Velazquez; ML 3-1

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