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Up the Backstretch: Derby fever season begins Saturday

By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - It's now five weeks until the Kentucky Derby and the first two of the truly major prep races go off on Saturday. In less than 30 minutes Saturday afternoon, the Florida and Louisiana derbies should begin to clarify the 3-year-old picture.

The final leg of the new Kentucky Derby points system, which now determines the starting field, starts with the two 1 1/8-mile races which are worth 100 points to each winning horse.

First up Saturday will be the 10-horse Florida Derby from Gulfstream Park. It's a rematch from the Holy Bull Stakes in January between 2-1 favorite Itsmyluckyday and 5-2 second choice Shanghai Bobby. Itsmyluckyday defeated Shanghai Bobby by two lengths last time out.

"He got beat fair and square, but I hope it will move him forward. I know there is a question if he can get the distance, but with his heart and determination my expectations are as high as ever," said Jack Wolf, managing partner of Shanghai Bobby's ownership group.

The 3-1 third pick is Fountain of Youth winner Orb, who posted a half-length victory in last month's stakes over the favored Violence.

"I came down here with the idea that he probably wouldn't be able to show his best with his style the way the Gulfstream track plays (favoring speed)," trainer Shug McGaughey noted about Orb. "My expectations were that he might win an 'a other than' allowance race and we'd get him back to New York and maybe get to run him in the Wood Memorial."

The horse to look out for is trainer Barclay Tagg's Indy's Illusion. The colt already has two races over the Gulfstream main track, getting third and second in a pair of optional claiming races in January and March, respectively.

Less than 30 minutes after the Florida Derby comes another $1 million race for 3-year-olds from New Orleans. The Louisiana Derby drew 14 potential Run for the Roses horses.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has two of the top three favorites in the Fair Grounds Race Course event. Revolutionary has been made the 3-1 favorite off his win at Aqueduct in the Withers Stakes and Palace Malice is the 5-1 third pick given his third-place finish in the track's Risen Star Stakes last month.

"It seems like he's (Palace Malice) been doing really well since the Risen Star. I'd say he's improving, but he's always trained really well and we've had really high hopes for him and he has performed," Pletcher said.

Separating those two is 9-2 second choice Code West, trained by Bob Baffert, who got second in the Risen Star.

However, with 14 3-year-olds starting, traffic issues may decide the outcome of the race, opening the door for a longshot.

Breaking from the far outside post is 30-1 longshot Nina's Dragon, trained by Lloyd Mason. The colt made a four-wide move in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields last month to finish second.

Local winner Sunbean is 12-1 in the program although he won the Gentilly Stakes at Fair Grounds for trainer Al Stall Jr.

If you haven't caught Derby fever yet, it will be much more widespread as of Saturday.

03/28 13:25:02 ET

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