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By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

The $1 million Florida Derby will go a long way toward defining Shanghai Bobby when he competes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park in what is always regarded as a major steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby.

Does he still pack the tremendous punch he displayed as a 2-year-old champion when he gutted out a head victory against He’s Had Enough in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Santa Anita Park to climax a memorable 5-for-5 campaign? Or is he a youngster who did not transition all that well from age 2 to 3 and will have distance limitations revealed in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby?

Jack Wolf, who heads the ownership, insists the colt’s lone defeat, when Itsmyluckyday bested him by two lengths and set a track record of 1:41.81 in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull on Jan. 26 at Gulfstream, should not overshadow everything else that was accomplished.

“My expectations are as high as they’ve ever been,” he said.

Trainer Todd Pletcher gave the son of Harlan’s Holiday a series of five-furlong workouts at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., designed to help him have staying power. In the most impressive of those, the Kentucky-bred covered five furlongs in 1:00, the second-fastest of 26 timed drills at the distance that morning on March 17.

“He’s matured and, as far as his first race as a 3-year-old, from a numbers standpoint, it was his best race,” Wolf said. “So, as far as I can see and as far as Todd has told me as how he handles himself in the barn and his works, that he’s made the step (from 2 to 3) in good order.

“A lot’s going to be told by this next race, but I’m happy where he is right now.”

WOLF TALKS ABOUT BOBBY AT ECLIPSE AWARDS

Under the newly instituted points system that emphasizes 3-year-old success rather than 2-year-old accomplishments, Shanghai Bobby will need a strong finish to earn enough points to make the cut for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field on May 4.

The draw for Florida Derby post positions did not help. He was assigned the rail for the second consecutive start, meaning jockey Rosie Napravnik will have to tap into his early speed to ensure good position during the short run to the first turn. He is expected to be under heavy pressure from Merit Man, a close-up second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint, and could find himself in hot pursuit.

All of that does not bode well for a horse with suspect stamina. His dam, Steelin’, is by the sprinter Orientate.

“There’s probably a little bit of a question, ‘Does he really want to run that far?’ ” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said of Shanghai Bobby. “But we’ll find out.”

McGaughey trains Fountain of Youth victor Orb.

Shanghai Bobby is rated as the second choice on the morning line, at 5-2, behind 2-1 favorite Itsmyluckyday. Orb is listed third, at 3-1, in a field of 10. As hopeful as Wolf is, he recognizes the need for a “Plan B” if he does not get the desired outcome.

“If it looks like the distance is a factor, then there are a lot of other races, seven-eighths [of a mile] and eight furlongs,” he noted. “So we’ll just have to wait and see.”

SHANGHAI BOBBY SLIDESHOW

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