The road to the Florida Derby picks up steam with the Fountain of Youth Stakes, which was restored to a 9-furlong, two-turn route this year. Buddy’s Saint, who tops many a Derby Future Book, makes his 3yo debut and faces a deep and contentious cast that looks to throw their hat in the ring. Let’s take a look.
Gulfstream Park: The Grade II, $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.
1. Aikenite: Not sure where the fire was in the local 1-mile Holy Bull, but for some reason this deep closer was up and on a pretty hotly contested pace. With Garcia back aboard, you’d think he’ll revert to his juvenile runs where he settled nicely and made a solid late move to pick up the pieces. There looks to be enough pace to aid a late rally, but his pedigree says this is stretching the envelope a bit, and considering he’s still eligible for an entry-level allowance, a win looks out of reach; a minor award seems to be his ceiling.
2. Buddy’s Saint: The probable favorite is atop many preseason Derby lists based on his dominant wins last fall at Aqueduct, and it’s nice to see Levine have a runner of this caliber. He’s been zipping right along over the local strip in preparation for his 3yo debut, but there are few potential roadblocks to a victory. First, his Remsen score, as visually impressive as it was, was painfully slow; second, this is only a starting off point for what Levine hopes is a Derby-winning campaign. So with the inside draw, a bit of a funny feeling about his ability to get two turns in fast time and an unappetizing price, it’s probably best to see just what he’s all about before jumping on his bandwagon; making him prove he’s the real deal.
3. Pulsion: Liked his chances in the BC Juvenile but his race went out the window entering the first turn. Prior to that, he chased home West Coast leader Lookin At Lucky in the GI Norfolk and gives every indication he’ll be a top-class performer at the class distances. Passed on the Holy Bull but judging by his works, he’s ready to tear down the barn; he makes his first start on dirt and we know how these synthetic runners can freak from the surface switch. He’s got enough pace to run at, gets regular pilot Smith to come in from California and has all the tools to be the real deal; thinking today’s his coming out party, so he gets the call for the win.
4. Pleasant Prince: Just missed to fellow FOY rival Ice Box in a local 9F allowance, which was solid considering it was his first start over two turns. And never underestimate when a 3yo has a 9F race under his belt when tackling an assignment like this. He’ll need to keep moving forward if he wants to factor, but he’s still only five starts into his career so you have to think there could be more left in the tank. Drew favorably, so thinking he’ll set up shop midpack and look to make his move around the far turn; from there, it’s anyone’s guess; not the worst price play in the world.
5. Jackson Bend: Many people wondered if he was for real heading into the Holy Bull, but he put on a fine show to just miss to the since-injured Winslow Homer. The neat thing is that you know Nick didn’t have him cranked for his best that day, so you’ve got to imagine he moves forward off that prep. His pedigree is relatively unknown, but he gets some stamina from damsire Tabasco Cat, so 9F’s seems doable. Must continue to improve but his Holy Bull run says it’s entirely possible; the one to beat.
6. Prince Will I Am: The longest shot in the field chased Drosselmeyer home in a 9F allowance earlier in the meet, and while the time wasn’t anything special, the winner is a big player in the Risen Star at FG later today. That run was lengths and lengths better than anything he’s ever done, so a bounce is a distinct possibility. But hey, these 3yos can get good in a hurry, so there’s no harm in trying the big boys; maybe he can add some spice to your supers.
7. Positive Spirit: McPeek runner was a solid third behind Ice Box and Pleasant Prince earlier in the meet and that was his first start since October, first on the main track and first over 7F’s, so all and all that was a big run. He’ll need to move forward again here, but you’ve got to think that there’s ample talent to do so. Figures to be involved from the opening bell and if Prado can get him to relax just off the pace, then he could prove troublesome in the drive; interesting longshot.
8. Eskendereya: One of the local allowance winners who have been getting a ton of publicity of late and he sure did look good winning with ease at a mile earlier in the meet. But the quality of that field can be questioned a bit as third place finisher Middle Of The Nite laid an egg last weekend in Tampa’s Sam Davis. Yet to try two turns on the main, but he’s bred to be a star so not much worry there. If there is a worry, it’s the underlaid price and the fact that he’s more reputation than substance at this point; respecting his talent but willing to make him beat me.
9. Lost Aptitude: It’s that time of the year. You know, when those trainers with turf horses try to get onto the Derby Trail. This guy has made all six starts on the green stuff but Romans takes a shot at the main track to see where to go from here. He’s by Aptitude, so at least you know he has the pedigree to dirt, but these kinds of moves always seem fishy. If the horse could run on dirt, wouldn’t he have tried it by now? He got no favors from the draw so thinking his tactical speed has him pressing the pace early, but can’t see him sticking around when the real running begins; passing.
10. Ice Box: Got a nice setup when he scored earlier in the meet but he drew horrifically today and figures wide every step of the way. You really can’t get past drawing outside in the 9F runs at GP so right away this colt is really up against it. He sure did break through earlier in the meet, which was his first two-turn start, so at least you know Nick has him going in the right direction. Barbaro was the last horse to win an important 9F race at GP from post 10+ and while this colt seems to have talent, well, he’s not Barbaro; not using.
5. Jackson Bend
2. Buddy’s Saint