03/26/2013 3:54PM

Florida Derby: Shanghai Bobby looks to prove he can go the distance

Barbara D. Livingston
Shanghai Bobby, last year's champion juvenile male, will look to answer questions about his perceived distance limitations in Saturday's Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Few have questioned his ability. No one has questioned his desire. Many have questioned whether Shanghai Bobby, last year’s 2-year-old champion male, is a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.

The questions center around his ability to get a distance of ground, specifically the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby. His detractors picked up steam when Shanghai Bobby suffered his first defeat in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park, where he was beaten two lengths by Itsmyluckyday.

On Tuesday, Shanghai Bobby’s connections answered questions about their colt’s Derby prospects. But on Saturday, the horse will give the real answers when he runs against Itsmyluckyday and Orb, the Fountain of Youth winner, in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream.

Jack Wolf, one of the principal owners of Shanghai Bobby, and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of the colt, were encouraged by Shanghai Bobby’s performance in the Holy Bull. In his first performance since capping a 5-for-5 2-year-old campaign in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile 12 weeks earlier, Shanghai Bobby set a strong early pace before getting passed in midstretch by Itsmyluckyday, who was coming off a win in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1.

“I thought his Holy Bull was a really good race,” Pletcher said Tuesday at the Palm Meadows training center. “He was well clear of the third horse [Clearly Now], who came back and won the Swale. Itsmyluckyday was a little better than him that day. [I’m] hoping now that we’ve had a race and a good training schedule since then, we can turn the tables, but it’s going to be hard to do. Itsmyluckyday’s two races at Gulfstream have been powerful. Orb seems to be an improving horse all the time. It’s not an easy race.”

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

But it’s an important race. Under the new qualifying system for the Kentucky Derby, Shanghai Bobby’s exploits as a 2-year-old – winning the Grade 2 Hopeful, Grade 1 Champagne, and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – do not assure him a spot in the Derby as would have been the case in years past.

Instead, he will have to add to his total of 24 qualifying points. The Florida Derby offers 100 points to the winner, 40 to the runner-up, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth.

“I think this race will tell us a lot about how he’s continued to develop,” Pletcher said. “He needs to run well; he needs to get some points. If he’s able to do that, we’ll move on to the next stop. This is his first time at a mile and an eighth against a couple of really good horses. It’s a test for him, a test for them, too.”

During a national teleconference, Wolf, one of the principals of Starlight Stable, was asked if he felt Shanghai Bobby, a son of Harlan’s Holiday out of the Orientate mare Steelin’, has distance limitations.

“You look at his pedigree, on the bottom side, it would suggest he’d have distance limitations,” Wolf said. “Having said that, the type of heart and determination this horse has shown and the way he’s galloped out – especially the way he galloped out after his last race – I’m willing to give this a shot.”

While Wolf said he would like to run Shanghai Bobby in the Kentucky Derby, he said he will be realistic.

“If, after this race, it looks like the distance is a factor, there are a lot of other races at seven-eighths and eight furlongs,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see after this.”

With the emergence of Orb and Itsmyluckyday as well as his own stablemate Verrazano, Shanghai Bobby has garnered less attention. In the most recent Kentucky Derby Future Wager, his odds closed at 18-1.

“A lot of people have put him on the back burner, maybe rightfully so,” Wolf said. “If they’re right, hopefully they can be proved wrong in this race.”

In other Florida Derby news, Are You Kidding Me breezed four furlongs in 48 seconds Tuesday on the dirt at Payson Park. Trainer Roger Attfield said Are You Kidding Me would make his dirt debut in the Florida Derby and will have Jose Lezcano to ride.

“He did it very nicely,” Attfield said. “I put him behind another horse, got some dirt in his face. It didn’t seem to bother him.”

Attfield said the owners of Are You Kidding Me, whose two wins have come sprinting on synthetic and turf, believe he could be a Kentucky Derby candidate.

“The best thing to do is to run him in the Florida Derby,” Attfield said. “I thought we might not get into the Spiral or Louisiana Derby if they oversubscribed. He’s got to show his mettle. If he runs really well and it looks like he should go on another step in that direction, fine. If not, we’ll go in a different direction.”