Shanghai Bobby begins his Triple Crown campaign Saturday by seeking another victory at Gulfstream Park.
The early Kentucky Derby favorite launches his 2013 season as a solid favorite in the Grade 3, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes.
Shanghai Bobby was chosen the 2012 champion 2-year-old in Eclipse ceremonies at Gulfstream last week. Now he'll start on the rail and run 1 1/16 miles against nine other Triple Crown prospects.
"Expectations are pretty high, so we have to make sure we've done our job properly and put him in a position where he will perform to the best of his capabilities,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He's grown up, filling out, all the things you want to see from him going into his 3-year-old year.''
Jockey Rosie Napravnik flies in from New Orleans for the mount. Napravnik rode Shanghai Bobby to all five of his victories last year, culminating in a win by a head in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.
"I'm impressed the way he has been able to handle everything we've thrown at him,'' Pletcher said. "He's won at Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, Santa Anita, and he seems to handle every surface we've put him on. He has handled shipping cross-country; he has handled two turns. So he's been a real pleasure to train.''
Pletcher-trainer 3-year-old filly Kauai Katie returns to Gulfstream on Saturday for the Grade 2, $200,000 Forward Gal Stakes. Jockey John Velazquez gets the return call on Kauai Katie in the field of six as she bids for a fifth victory in six career starts.
Shanghai Bobby, the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the Holy Bull, was purchased for $185,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales by Starlight Racing. The son of Harlan's Holiday is now co-owned by the Coolmore team of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.
Before the Breeders' Cup, Shanghai Bobby posted major stakes victories last year in the Grade 2 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga by 3 3/4 lengths, and the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park by five lengths.
"Any time you have an undefeated champion, you want to make sure you have him properly prepared,'' said Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer. "So there's always a little added anxiety when you're running one that has a resume like his. But it's a position you want to be in.''
Challengers in the Holy Bull include Frac Daddy, Dewey Square and Bern Identity. Ken McPeek, trainer of Frac Daddy, said Shanghai Bobby deserves the role as the winter book Kentucky Derby favorite.
"At some point we've got to figure out whether we can or we can't run with him,'' McPeek said. "I'd rather find out now than find out later.''
Frac Daddy makes his first start since losing a neck decision when second to Uncaptured in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24. In two previous starts, Frac Daddy finished third in his debut at Belmont in early October and broke his maiden by nearly 10 lengths stretching out to 1 1/16 miles at Churchill on Nov. 3.
Dewey Square also comes into the Holy Bull after three starts as a 2-year-old for trainer Dale Romans, who collected his own Eclipse Award last Saturday. Bern Identity had three wins, two seconds and a third last year.