The Road to the Kentucky Derby starts here.
Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park will be one of the final and most important opportunities for horses looking to lock up their spot at Churchill Downs. Starting with the Florida Derby, the second leg of the Road to the Kentucky Derby begins. With that, each winner gets a critical 100 points, and historically has gone on to lock its spot in the opening Triple Crown extravaganza.
Held every year in Hallandale Beach, the Florida Derby is widely considered the true start of major racing season. The best and brightest qualifiers still hoping to make the field come out, and spots are at a premium this time of year.
The 2013 event is sure to be a doozy, as nearly every contending horse is still languishing outside a "lock" status. Favorites Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday are on the precipice of locking up their Run for the Roses, but their result matters more than any other horse on Saturday. Claiming a spot on the podium should do the trick—anything else will lead to an awfully nervous April.
With a strong field before them, an ascendant finish is easier said than done. Here is a complete breakdown of the favorites' chances on Saturday, along with where and when to watch the 2013 Florida Derby.
When: Saturday, March 30 at 6:19 p.m. ET
Where: Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Watch: NBC Sports Network
Horses to Watch (Odds in Parenthesis Via Bovada)
While Itsmyluckyday does not have enough qualifying points for an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby, most expect the young colt to change that on Saturday. With a first- or second-place finish in the Florida Derby, Itsmyluckyday will lock itself into horse racing's biggest event—where many view him as a favorite.
Itsmyluckyday comes in to Saturday's race as the favorite, a status he cemented with brilliant runs in January. Trained by Edward Plesa, Jr. and jockeyed by Elvis Trujillo, Itsmyluckyday has won two straight races and placed in five of his last seven. The colt defeated a stacked field at the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 26, a victory that toppled on his triumph at the Gulfstream Park Derby.
With a victory at the Florida Derby, Itsmyluckyday may walk into May's Kentucky Derby as the runaway favorite. He posts in position three to start the race, close to two other contenders in Shanghai Bobby and Pick of the Litter, so we'll likely get an early indication of how he's running.
Over two months has passed since his last run, so it will be interesting to see if Itsmyluckyday can continue his momentum.
Shanghai Bobby (5/2)
One of the reasons so many people are high on Itsmyluckyday is that the colt did something no other horse had previously done in January—defeated Shanghai Bobby. The colt had been undefeated in five races prior to the Holy Bull Stakes and he will likely be champing at the bit to get back in the win column.
Trained by Todd A. Pletcher and owned by Rosie Napravnik, Shanghai Bobby has been an up-and-coming horse since debuting last April. He won the Foxwoods Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in October, but really got on the map after taking Breeders' Cup Juvenile race in November.
Like Itsmyluckyday, all Shanghai Bobby needs is a top-two finish on the podium to guarantee a Kentucky Derby spot—something he's done in every race thus far. He'll start in the inside post for Saturday's race, like he did for the Holy Bull Stakes, and will look to build up an early lead and keep it through the race.
Itsmyluckyday and the remainder of the top-notch field will be in tow, but one loss doesn't suddenly make Shanghai Bobby vulnerable. He's been the most consistent horse in this field, and his 5/2 odds may look like free money come Saturday.
Either way, Shanghai Bobby a horse that bears watching every time he steps on the track.
The most dangerous horse outside the first three posts is undoubtedly Orb. Though his career started out slow with three straight middling performances in the Maiden Special Weight races, Orb has become a rising star over the past few months.
Since winning his first career race at Aqueduct in November, the victories have kept piling up. The colt returned to the track after a two-month layoff at the Allowance Optional Claiming and got his second victory and followed it up with his third in a row at last month's Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes.
The latter victory may be the most important. Among top contenders, Orb has been on the track most recently. Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday have both been dormant since January, while Orb won at the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 23.
Freshness versus experience has always been a debate in the horse racing community, so we may get a little test situation on Saturday. Orb is definitely a contender here, but the field is arguably the strongest he's ever faced.