Analysis of Saturday’s Florida Derby at 1 1/8-miles, a Kentucky Derby points race.
1. Shanghai Bobby (R. Napravnik/T. Pletcher) (5-2) – The 2-year-old champ is back and in an unenviable spot at the rail considering the same slot forced his tactics in the Holy Bull. The waters are even deeper now with the improving Orb on the scene. He’s classy enough to factor, but this distance could be a challenge for him.
2. Pick of the Litter (J. Castanon/D. Romans) (6-1) – Maiden winner makes major class jump, but don’t blame Romans for giving it a shot after that impressive romp over the strip at 1 1/8-miles. A peculiar Kitten’s Joy, he seems to prefer dirt over turf. Great pedigree for long distances and he and Orb are the only runners with wins at this distance.
3. Itsmyluckyday (E. Trujillo/E. Plesa) (2-1) – Deserved favorite adores this track (2 for 2) and an added sixteenth doesn’t look to pose an issue. Interesting to note he’s been racing consistently over the past four months before this two-month respite since the Holy Bull. The last time he came off a two-month layoff, he finished sixth in the Delta Jackpot. Tough to determine, however, if that was a surface preference. Still, he’s making his 10th start and must resist the temptations of speedy Merit Man.
4. Pontiff (A. Garcia/D. Romans) (30-1) – Intriguing fellow has yet to break his maiden, but on pure pedigree alone – he’s a half-brother to Pulpit by Giant’s Causeway – he merits watching for the future when he has more experience, particularly on turf.
5. Frac Daddy (C. Lanerie/K. McPeek) (20-1) – McPeek says talented colt is over his issues, and the extra week after bypassing the Spiral is to his benefit. He has the look of a sprint-to-middle distance runner who might need a race to get back on track.
6. Orb (J. Velazquez/S. McGaughey) (3-1) – So much to like about the Fountain of Youth champ, including the distance and apparent pace scenario. Merit Man could set it up for another closing rush, and Velazquez will bide his time. McGaughey said he’s over the gate issues that hampered his early efforts and he’s mentally doing well going into the race. He’ll take a lot of play in this advantageous spot but has more appeal than the morning line favorite.
7. Indy’s Illusion (B. Tagg/R. Maragh) (20-1) – Long shot with some positives, including a lot of experience at this distance (three starts, a second and third), he beat Frac Daddy when he broke his maiden and was third behind Orb on this track. Last work was a very leisurely four furlongs in :52, but his overall work pattern is hit or miss. Key third off layoff race for Tagg; exotics add for price. A win would bring vindication to much-maligned 2012 Remsen, in which he finished fifth.
8. Merit Man (K. Desormeaux.B. Hess) (15-1) – Speedy colt is key to the pace scenario of the test, and Hess lays out the plan to be on the lead. The blinkers off will aid his cause, but wiring this field at 1 1/8-miles would be quite an accomplishment. He’s yet to run beyond seven furlongs, but if he gets taken off tactic, he’s won from off the pace previously.
9. Are You Kidding Me (J. Lezcano/R. Attfield) (15-1) – Appealing long shot is a son of Run Away and Hide trying dirt for the first time, and he’s trained very well over it at Payson Park. Splendid effort to just miss against the classy Noble Tune in a mile turf allowance. His pedigree isn’t stamina-laden, but there’s some distance runners on the dam side. Only drawback is the post.
10. Narvaez (A. Bezara/P. Lopez) (20-1) – Valiant effort off the layoff to dead-heat with Declan’s Warrior, and he showed major improvement in that 3-year-old debut. He hasn’t been facing the tougher competition like many of the rivals in this test, and the far outside post doesn’t help the cause.
Top pick: 6) Orb
Longshots to consider for exotics: 9) Are You Kidding Me, 7) Indy’s Illusion