The Brock Talk

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fountain of Youth Is Next Step To Maturity On Derby Trail

The first trimester of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brand (gr. 1) season of preparation ends this weekend with the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2) at Gulfstream Park in the biggest spotlight. The $400,000, 1-1/8 race for 3-year-olds will be the last major race along the Triple Crown trail for the month of February with now only March and April before the Run for the Roses in May.

There is also the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park, the Turf Paradise Derby at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Arizona and the seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. 3) at Gulstream Park this weekend, but none are expected to have the impact on the Derby like the Fountain of Youth field.

There have been a number of notable Derby prep races in February and most were won by respectful but short of awe inspiring winners. Brethren looked very good while winning the Sam F. Davis (gr. 3) at Tampa Bay Downs, but the Todd Pletcher trainee fell short of impressing the speed figure and numbers handicappers in that race. Dialed In had a nice come from-behind win in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. 3) Gulfstream Park and has the benefit of trainer Nick Zito. But the Mineshaft colt missed this weekend’s Fountain of Youth which at least raises some doubts.

Mucho Macho Man finished fourth behind Dialed In in the Holy Bull then came back to take the Risen Star Stakes (gr. 2) at Fair Grounds. Although the Risen Star wasn’t that deep of a field, Mucho Macho Man seems to be moving in the right direction - and improvement this time of year is a valuable commodity for a 3-year-old thoroughbred.

Further West, trainer Bob Baffert unleashed The Factor in the seven furlong San Vincente Stakes (gr. 3) in February, and again, it was a solid performance. But like Dialed In, Baffert may not have as many opportunities as may like to prepare for the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby. The grade 3 Sunland Derby Mar. 27 or the Mar. 19 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas are possibilities.

This is no knock on the winner’s of the these graded races in February, but the reality is that of those four races only the Holy Bull and San Vincente have had winners go on to also take the Derby. In 1994 Go For Gin won both the Holy Bull and Kentucky Derby and Barbaro won both races in 2006. No horse has ever won both the Risen Star and the Derby nor the Sam Davis and Derby. Three horses have taken the Derby and San Vincente, but one has to go back to Silver Charm in 1997 to find the most recent. The other two were 30 and 40 years previous to Silver Charm in Lucky Debonair in 1965 and Swaps in 1955.

While there has not been a superstar performance among the sophomores this year, many of more anticipated contenders have yet to make a stakes appearance including 2010 Champion Two-Year-Old Male Uncle Mo – set for a March 12 race in either the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream or the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs the same day.

The other 3-year-old near the top of most Derby lists yet to debut this year is To Honor and Serve, winner of the Remsen Stakes (gr. 2) (video below) and Nashua Stakes (gr. 2) last year. But To Honor and Serve will be making his first start in nearly 90 days this weekend as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has expressed little concern however, saying To Honor and Serve may be his best chance to win the Kentucky Derby and has seemed pleased with the colts winter training regime in Florida.

The Fountain of Youth will also be the second start of the year for Soldat, a winner of an 1-1/8 allowance race at Gulfstream Park by more than 10 lengths Jan. 21. Last year Soldat concluded the year by finishing second behind Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. 2T) after winning the grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga last summer, also on grass. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had to like what he saw when Soldat seemed to even excel on dirt in that recent allowance win. With little doubt Soldat likes the Gulfstream main track at least.

Also interesting about Soldat is his pedigree. He is by War Front, who was more of a sprinter as a race horse but who also won the minor Princelet Stakes at Belmont Park at 1-1/16 miles. Also known as a sire of sprinters, War Front has San Vincente Stakes (gr. 2) winner The Factor on the Triple Crown trail with trainer Bob Baffert in Southern California as well.

Gourmet Dinner is another making his second start of 2011 after finishing third behind winner Dialed In and runner-up Sweet Ducky in the Holy Bull. However, in the Holy Bull, Gourmet Dinner finished ahead of Mucho Macho Man in fourth. Mucho Mach Man of course, won his next start in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. 2) at Fair Grounds Feb. 19. Trainer Steve Stanbridge has also made a rider change for the son of Trippi, giving the reins aboard Gourmet Dinner to Ramon Dominguez.

Among other Fountain Youth starters is the trio of Shakleford, Casper’s Touch and El Grayling, the top three finishers in a Feb. 5 allowance race at Gulfstream Park, also at the 1-1/8 mile distance. While Shackleford was the winner, Casper’s Touch was closing second after overcoming plenty of trouble in that race.

Like the Holy Bull Stakes, the Fountain of Youth has seen only two of it’s winners go on to take the Derby in Kentucky. Spectacular Bid in 1979 and Thunder Gulch in 1995 both won the Fountain of Youth on their way to the Derby winner’s circle.

It would be difficult to be certain that this year’s Kentucky Derby winner will be running in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Saturday, but it is certainly the most serious Derby prep to date and this field has it's share of potential that previous runnings may not have had. And this time of year, potential is just what we'll be looking for.


Anonymous said...

I'm going for Soldat in the Fountain Of Youth, he looks really good right now. To Honor and Serve I'm not sure what to make of at the moment. He's been off for awhile and I'm not sure he's cranked up all the way for this one.


Brock Sheridan said...

I agree about the lay-off from which To Honor and Serve is returning even though his training appears to have been solid.

The horse that intrigues me a little is Casper's Touch coming out of the Shackleford allowance race. Definitely a play in the exotics and a possible win play at the right price (8-1 or so).