01/24/2013 4:32PM

Gulfstream Park: Shanghai Bobby starts road to Kentucky Derby in Holy Bull Stakes

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Can anyone beat the champ?

That’s the question that will be on everybody’s mind when the recently elected 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby launches his 3-year-old campaign against nine rivals in Saturday’s $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.

The Grade 3 Holy Bull highlights an outstanding 11-race program that also includes the $200,000 Forward Gal, a seven-furlong Grade 2 dash for 3-year-old fillies that matches Shanghai Bobby’s stablemate, the once-beaten Kauai Katie, against the Grade 1-placed My Happy Face.

The 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull is the first of three important Kentucky Derby preps to be run here during the meet, along with the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby. The Holy Bull will reward the winner with 10 points under the new system being used to determine the 20 starters for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Shanghai Bobby will be a deserved and likely heavy favorite when making his first start since registering a hard-fought and very game head decision over He’s Had Enough in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

[HOLY BULL: Get PPs, watch Saturday's full Gulfstream card live]

“This is a very competitive field for the first race of the year, but the horse is doing very well, training well, we’re happy with him,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Shanghai Bobby for the partnership of Starlight Racing and the Coolmore team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. “Right now, Plan A is to run twice before the Kentucky Derby, this race and the Florida Derby. He seems to run well fresh, and it’s kind of the program he had last year. He’s undefeated so we’re not looking to change a whole lot.”

Pletcher said the point system won’t alter his strategy with Shanghai Bobby on the Kentucky Derby trail.

“Jack and I talked about the point system at length,” Pletcher said, referring to owner Jack Wolf, “and we decided that the most important thing is to manage the horse, and if the points fall in place great, and if it doesn’t – we come up short in the Florida Derby – we’ll go to the Preakness or something. The way I look at it, we’d have to run a dud in the Florida Derby not to have enough points, but we’ve laid out a plan that we thought was best for the horse.”

Among those who will try to hand Shanghai Bobby his first defeat Saturday are trainers Kelly Breen with Bern Identity, Dale Romans with Dewey Square, and Ken McPeek with Frac Daddy.

The Holy Bull will be Bern Identity’s first start since his troubled second-place finish behind Goldencents as the 9-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 17. Bern Identity will share top weight of 122 pounds along with Shanghai Bobby under the allowance conditions of the Holy Bull, a result of his victory in the Grade 2 Sanford at 2.

“He’s training as well as I’ve ever seen him train right now, the distance should suit him, and I’m eagerly anticipating seeing him run two turns over a real two-turn track,” Breen said. “If for some reason the champ is really a champ and I can’t beat him, maybe I’ll go a different route with my horse next time. But the timing is right, my horse is doing great, and this race will certainly give me a line where we’re at right now.”

Romans echoed similar sentiments regarding Dewey Square, who suffered his only loss in three starts when finishing a wide-running third behind Uncaptured and Frac Daddy in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 24.

“I have a lot of respect for Shanghai Bobby, and if he takes a step forward he’ll be tough to beat,” said Romans, the newly crowned Eclipse Award winning trainer of 2012. “But it is his first race back since the Breeders’ Cup, and you never know how a horse can change from 2 to 3. My horse is training great, and I expect him to run a big race. Although this race is not the end all – you do not have to win – you just have to run the right kind of race and go forward from there.”

Frac Daddy finished second, outgamed a neck by Uncaptured, in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Trainer Ken McPeek opted to launch Frac Daddy’s campaign in the Holy Bull rather than an entry-level allowance race earlier on the card.

“At some point, we have to see how he fits with this kind down here,” McPeek said. “My horse is doing well, and this should give us an idea whether we should stay here at Gulfstream or need to zip away from some of these others. How good is Shanghai Bobby? He’s fast, plain fast, but we need to line up and find out. Somebody’s got to fight the champion.”

Itsmyluckyday is coming off a career-best effort when rallying to a 6 3/4-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day but will have to overcome post 7 with the short run to the first turn in 1 1/16-mile races at this track.

“My horse has progressed faster than I’d ever thought, but that’s certainly not a bad thing,” said Itsmyluckyday’s trainer, Eddie Plesa Jr. “This will be a big step up for him, but this is the time of year you have to run against these types of horses.”