It's now or never for owners, trainers, jockeys and horses looking for a spot in the 2013 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The $1 million Grade 1 Florida Derby is one of the final seven prep races on the Official Road to the Kentucky Derby series in which the winning horses receives 100 points towards a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The second place horse receives 40 points, third gets 20 points, and the fourth place horse 10 points. The Kentucky Derby starting gate will comprise the 20 horses with the most points.
The two favorites in this year's Florida Derby - Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday - currently don't have enough points to earn an automatic spot in the Kentucky Derby. However, if either horse finishes first or second on Saturday, their connections can start booking hotels rooms in Louisville.
Let's take a look at the field for the race and the chances of each horse to win:
Grade 1 Florida Derby
Track: Gulfstream Park
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Purse: $1 million
Post Time: 6:19 pm Eastern
Kentucky Derby Points: 100 (1st), 40 (2nd), 20 (3rd), 10 (4th)
1-Shanghai Bobby (5/2): The juvenile champ ran a good second to Itsmyluckyday in the Holy Bull back on Jan. 26, his only start so far in 2013. He's drawn inside for this race just like he was for the Holy Bull, which means he'll probably need to show a good amount of early speed in order to ensure a good, clean trip. The presence of the stretch-out-sprinter Merit Man to his outside in post #8 is going to make it hard for Shanghai Bobby to get the lead but he should be able to secure a perfect stalking trip behind the early leader.
2-Pick of the Litter (6/1): A son of notable turf and synthetic sire Kitten's Joy, Pick of the Litter broke his maiden in impressive fashion in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream Park back on Feb. 27. He only beat three other horses that day so we shouldn't get too excited about his 7 ½ length victory, but he obviously possesses a bit of talent.
3-Itsmyluckyday (2/1): The colt that many have in the #1 position on their Derby Top 10 lists has won both of his starts in 2013, the second of which was a clear and impressive win in the Holy Bull. A son of Lawyer Ron, Itsmyluckyday struggled to maintain consistency as a juvenile but appears to have finally put it all together as a three-year-old. That kind of late development is remeniscent of his sire, a colt that had quite a few races under his belt before he really started to reach his true potential. If Itsmyluckyday follows the same development pattern as Lawyer Ron, he could still have a lot more room to improve.
4-Pontiff (30/1): This son of Giant's Causeway finished second in a Maiden Special Weight at Gulfstream back on Feb. 16 and is now thrown to the wolves in a Grade 1 race against several of the top three-year-olds in the country. Despite the cool name, this colt is not infallible.
5-Frac Daddy (20/1): His first start of 2013 was a sixth place finish in the Holy Bull in a race where he grabbed a quarter. He should be all healed up from that injury and it's possible he can return to the form he displayed last November but, at the same time, he's still only beaten a group of maidens in his four race career. The odds will be big on this colt but it's a tough call as to whether or not he presents real "value" on the tote board.
6-Orb (3/1): It's hard not to like the way this colt has developed since last November. After struggling in his fist three races, he broke his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 24, beat a group of Optional Claimers/N1X Allowance horses at Gulfstream while going two turns on Jan. 26, and then he outdueled the highly rated Violence in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23. If he's able to take another step forward in this race, he'll be awfully tough to beat.
7-Indy's Illusion (20/1): A son of noted sire A.P. Indy, Indy's Illusion faced graded stakes company one time during his juvenile season and finished a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct. He's raced a couple of times against Optional Claiming/Allowance company at Gulfstream this winter but has yet to notch of victory. He finished third to Orb at Gulfstream back on Jan. 26.
8-Merit Man (15/1): Second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint last November, the speedy Merit Man is stretching out to two turns for the first time in the Florida Derby. In order to win this race, Merit Man will either need to find a way to slow the pace down on the frontend in the early stages or figure out how to rate off of Shanghai Bobby (assuming jockey Kent Desormeaux is willing to concede the lead ). This colt could be dangerous in this spot if left alone on the lead.
9-Are You Kidding Me (15/1): This Roger Attfield trainee has never won (or run) a race over a dirt surface in seven lifetime starts. This is a tough race to attempt to notch his first win on something other than turf or synthetics.
10-Narvaez (20/1): This colt has struggled the three times he attempted to race at a mile so it's probably best to question his stamina in this spot. But like many of the horses in this field (and in all of the other Derby preps), it's difficult to predict the development of young horses from race to race. Narvaez has shown flashes of talent and he's got enough tactical speed to put him into the race in the first half mile. The question is: will he have any gas in the tank once the field hits the far turn?
Assuming Itsmyluckyday has maintained his form since his last race over two months ago, it's difficult to pick against him in this race. His tactical speed should allow him to sit right off of Shanghai Bobby and Merit Man through the first three-quarters to mile of the race, which will give him every opportunity to run down the leaders in the stretch drive. Perhaps the biggest question with Itsmyluckyday is the layoff; if you look back at the last time he entered a race off of a two-month break, he flopped badly in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot.
If he's right, it should be another lucky day for Itsmyluckday.