After four weeks of featuring supporting players and new faces, the star of the show, Shanghai Bobby, makes his eagerly awaited debut on the Kentucky Derby trail Jan. 26 when he faces nine opponents in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
It is obvious by the size of the field that rival trainers hold little fear of last year's 2-year-old champion, as several of them will be sending out their big guns in an effort to catapult to the top of the list of leading Derby contenders.
In addition, Shanghai Bobby did not draw an ideal post, breaking from the rail. Expected to provide the biggest challenges are Frac Daddy and Dewey Square, who finished second and third, respectively, in last fall's Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes; Bern Identity, a fast-closing second in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot ; Itsmyluckyday, a 6 3/4-length winner of the Gulfstream Park Derby; and Tulira Castle, who has two wins and two seconds in four career starts, including an impressive score in an allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream Dec. 8.
Shanghai Bobby is undefeated in five starts, including dominating victories in the Champagne Stakes and Hopeful Stakes and a gutsy win in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Following his victories in the Hopeful and Champagne, the son of Harlan's Holiday -- Steelin', by Orientate showed his courage in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, digging in gamely the length of the stretch to out-battle longshot He's Had Enough, winning by a head in his first start without Lasix and having to travel cross-country.
"He's grown up; filling out; all the things you want to see from him going into his 3-year-old year," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "His last work went great. It looks like he's right on schedule."
Bred in Kentucky by Stonehaven Steadings, Shanghai Bobby was purchased by Starlight Partners, headed by Jack Wolf and Don Lucarelli, at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $105,000.
Shanghai Bobby has turned in a series of steady five-furlong works at Palm Meadows training center, his last being 1:00 4/5 breezing Jan. 20. He will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who has been on the colt in all of his starts.
Frac Daddy, trained by Kenny McPeek, ran a courageous race in the Kentucky Jockey Club against the far more seasoned Uncaptured, who beat him a head after a stretch-long duel. Prior to that, the son of Scat Daddy broke his maiden by 9 3/4 lengths at Churchill Downs. He drew post 2 with David Cohen aboard.
Dewey Square looks to be Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans' best shot for the Derby. The son of Bernardini was closing fastest of all in the Kentucky Jockey Club to be beaten 1 1/2 lengths in only his third career start. He will break from post 6 under Corey Lanerie.
Both Frac Daddy and Dewey Square will be getting six pounds (122-116) from Shanghai Bobby.
Bern Identity, from the always dangerous Kelly Breen stable, has been a gem of consistency, finishing in the money in all six of his career starts, including victories in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs. He closed out his campaign by coming from far back to finish second to front-running Goldencents in the Delta Jackpot. Paco Lopez, who rode Holy Bull entrant Itsmyluckyday in his last two starts, will have the mount.
Itsmyluckyday has won four of his eight career races for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr., with his last being a spectacular effort in the Gulfstream Park Derby, in which he blazed the mile in 1:34.39. The son of Lawyer Ron gets a new rider in Elvis Trujillo and will break from post 7.
Tulira Castle, a son of War Pass trained by James Devito and ridden by Javier Castellano, scored by 2 1/4 lengths in his recent victory, defeating Fredericksburg, who also was entered in the Holy Bull and will get blinkers added, with John Velazquez up. The two colts drew post 8 and 9, respectively.
Also entered were Canadian invader Clearly Now, who was third in the Display Stakes at Woodbine in his last start of 2012 for Brian Lynch; Sr. Quisqueyano, a well-beaten second in the Gulfstream Park Derby and the rage at Calder last summer; and Joshua's Comprise, who is making his 16th career start and is coming off a fourth in the Gulfstream Derby, beaten more than 20 lengths.