Gulfstream Park: The GIII, $400,000 Holy Bull at 1 1/16 miles
#1 Shanghai Bobby: Undefeated juvenile makes his 3yo debut after going 5-for-5 last year, which culminated in a win in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita to cement his championship. Sure, he was a drunken soldier in the lane over a paved highway at SA, but they all had a chance to run him down and still couldn’t, so it’s tough to take too much away from the win (wink, wink). Handicappers and pundits alike have two considerations to ponder today: 1) this is obviously just a prep and a starting-off point for a hopeful run at the Kentucky Derby, and 2) he needs points, not earnings, this year, so can Pletcher afford to give this one away with a bigger goal in mind? Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, the race clearly goes through him, though the gut says his hourglass is running down; the pick, for today.
#2 Frac Daddy: Impressive 2yo came to hand quickly for McPeek, running off in a two-turn MSW at Churchill Downs and then following that up by finishing second by a neck to hotshot Uncaptured in the GII Jockey Club there to close out his campaign. The works are a tad light leading up to this, but it seems the screws have been tightened of late, and with little speed in here, he should be up close throughout. The talent appears to be there, but today he might need to ease into things before announcing his presence later on, which he seems more than capable of doing; second best, for today.
#3 Clearly Now: Woodbine invader tries conventional dirt for the first time after going 2-for-3 in the Great White North as a juvenile and seems to have the speed to make the front if they choose to send. Well-bred son of Horse Greeley tasted two turns in his juvenile finale, running second to Avie’s Quality in the Display, but the problem there is that that runner was beaten about as far as a Lawrence Tynes field goal in Fair Grounds’ GIII Lecomte last weekend. The good news is that Lynch is calling the shots and he’s off to a good start here, not to mention you’re getting a price if you believe; not impossible for the bottom rung of the exotics.
#4 Bern Identity: Versatile colt was labeled a bit of a sprinter last year, but Breen expertly shipped him to Delta Downs for a pair of two-turn stakes last fall and he hardly disgraced himself, winning the Lafitte and running a closing second to the talented Goldencents in the GIII Jackpot in his last start in November. Like the chalk on the rail, he’s another with bigger goals in mind, so he might not be as cranked as a few of the others. Still, there’s not a lot of margin for error when you don’t have the earnings to fall back on anymore, and if you judge him off that last bullet 59 1/5 drill at Palm Meadows January 20, you might be running to the windows; must respect.
#5 Sr. Quisqueyano: Odd sort won his first three starts with devastating ease and now has run second in his last four, including in the local Gulfstream Park Derby behind fellow rival Itsmyluckday in his last start New Year’s Day. Still, there’s something to be said for a colt who has never missed the exactas in seven career starts and does own a two-turn win to boot, though when push comes to shove, he just doesn’t look fast enough; thinking the streak ends today.
#6 Dewey Square: Romans colt enters fresh off the Jockey Club, when he was third to ‘Frac, while beaten just 1 ¼ lengths. Son of Bernardini is another who owns a two-turn win, which can’t hurt here, but he is coming off a layoff and may need one to kick off his season, not to mention that he spots a bit of experience as well. Expecting him to sit a midpack stalking trip and make his presence felt, but thinking he’s one to look for down the road, as opposed to today; limiting to the bottom of the exotics, if at all.
#7 Itsmyluckyday: Hard-to-read colt vanquished ‘Sr. in the aforementioned GP Derby, running off by 6 ¾ lengths in fast time to stamp himself as a legitimate contender for this early season tilt. The issue is that that race was a one-turn mile and today he gets two turns, a trip that he failed miserably over in the Jackpot, when sixth behind Goldencents. If you want to nit-pick, you can say he did win the two-turn Foolish Pleasure at Calder in September, but that was again over ‘Sr. and another Holy Bull rival, Joshua’s Comprise, and neither of those two is a hard hitter today. That last win says he merits respect, and we all know these 3yos have been known to jump up and improve open lengths overnight at this time of the year, but the gut says that when he gets looked in the eye, he’s going to be the one doing the blinking; taking a stand against.
#8 Tulira Castle: Underrated son of champion 2yo War Pass was considered a synthetic runner last year when he sandwiched a maiden win around a pair of second-place finishes, but he sure looked sharp winning an optional claimer here at a flat-mile earlier in the meet. Of course, the speed figure guys aren’t emptying their bank accounts off that race, but at least you know he can handle the surface, not to mention that with just four lifetime starts, he still has a ton of room for improvement. On paper he needs to come up a bit to play with these, but at a big price against a modest field (aside from ‘Bobby), you’re allowed to think outside the box and swing for the fences; giving him a chance to blow up the exotics.
#9 Fredericksburg: Now here’s where things get tricky, because if you like Tulira, then you kind of have to like this Bass homebred by default, as he was second to him in the aforementioned optional claimer. The blinks go on today, which isn’t a bad idea, as he was tactical to begin with and with this wide draw he’ll need some added early lick to not get strung out too wide. You also get JV and Matz in your corner, but at the end of the day he needs to make up 2 ½ lengths on Tulira, who isn’t even one of the ones in here; the task is a tall one.
#10 Joshua’s Comprise: Rank outsider has been beaten about a football field combined in his last three starts and has never run remotely fast enough to win this; looms the longest of the longshots.
#1 Shanghai Bobby
#2 Frac Daddy
#8 Tulira Castle