Gulfstream Park: The Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles–by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now
#1 Commissioner: The first of two from Pletcher was a game winner of an optional claimer over fellow heavyweight Top Billing here in January in what was his first start since August. Son of A.P. Indy is bred to be special and sure showed a ton of improvement off a modest 9F MSW win at Saratoga when last seen. Tactical sort drew perfectly for this two-turn tilt and should be in the first flight, but his grind-you-down style is a little worrying, as his win last month was at 9Fs and he gives the impression the longer the better (Belmont Stakes, anyone?), so at false odds let’s see if we can find a bit more value; taking a deep breath and trying to beat on top.
#2 We Miss Artie: Pletcher’s second and much less heralded (main track) runner will try the dirt once again after being necked out in the grassy Kitten’s Joy to begin his campaign here last month. Son of ace middle distance turf runner Artie Schiller won Keeneland’s GI Breeders’ Futurity over the Polytrack as a 2yo, then was a relatively close, albeit it non-threatening seventh in the BC Juvenile at Santa Anita. Classy runner has been training lights-out on the real stuff in the mornings, but the gut says Ramsey’s the one who wants him in here, not his future Hall of Fame trainer; not seeing it.
#3 Medal Count: Well-thought-of runner has showed flashes of brilliance in his brief career, but his lone dirt start was a bomb in the BC Juvenile, when he was beaten about a furlong in November, so he has some questions to answer today. Son of Dynaformer closed nicely to win an optional claimer here on the turf last month but is bred for this, so it’s nice to see Romans try again after such a drubbing, which is a positive. If you still believe, the price should be robust, which seems about right because this stretch runner is a definite longshot; minor award appears his ceiling.
#4 Wildcat Red: Romping winner of the local 7F GIII Hutcheson three weeks ago will stretch out to two turns for the first time and probably rates as the one to catch with the added ground. Speedy son of D’wildcat isn’t bred for this two-turn trip, but he was a sharp second to fellow rival General a Rod in the one-turn Gulfstream Park Derby going a flat mile two-back, so at least you know he can go that far. Garoffalo charge has reached a new level in his two starts this year, and there’s no doubt he’s in the best form of his career, so with a potential pace advantage over a track that always caters to speed going long, don’t be surprised if he’s still there and giving them a big scare in deep stretch; dangerous.
#5 General a Rod: The aforementioned GP Derby winner will also try two turns for the first time, but as a son of Roman Ruler out of a Dynaformer mare, he’s bred for this and then some. Lightly raced colt has done little wrong in three starts for Maker and figures to trip out beautifully here, as he can set up shop just off ‘Wildcat and get first run on Commissioner and Top Billing, which will go a long way to aid his winning cause. The good news is he also should offer a fair price, as the two favorites are going to take a ton of cash, which means this rapidly improving colt might fall through the wagering cracks a bit, which is why we’ll plant our flag on his mountain; call to post the mild surprise.
#6 Casiguapo: GI-placed 2yo bombed in his 3yo debut sprinting here 20 days ago when blinkers were added, and he’ll have to wake up in a hurry if he’s going to play with this crew today. Son of Sightseeing takes the hood off today for Morales, and his lone two-turn start was a decent second to the highly-thought-of Rise Up in Delta Downs’ GIII Jackpot in November, so maybe the equipment change and getting back to this trip will wake him up. On paper he’s never run fast enough to threaten a group like this and it doesn’t look like he’s coming into this classy GII at the top of his game, so it’s asking a lot to think he can make them worry today; not using.
#7 C. Zee: Tactical runner had the “someone had to be second” feel to him in the Hutcheson, when he held for the place behind ‘Red’s runaway win, and it’s likely he could pose the biggest threat to that runner early as he makes his two-turn debut today. Son of Elusive Bluff has talent and has been managed nicely by Gold, but he isn’t really bred for this and steps way up. His running style should have him close to the pace for the first half-mile, but it’s unlikely that he’s around when the real running begins; pop and stop seems likely.
#8 Almost Famous: Overrated son of Unbridled’s Song has built a pretty good reputation off two sharp wins at Churchill Downs last year, but he’s been soundly defeated in both stakes starts, including a fourth-place run in the GII Holy Bull earlier in the meet. Of course, he could improve off that seasonal debut for Byrne and it’s nice to see Borel come in for the ride, but he’s also caught between a rock and a hard place here, as he’s not fast enough to make the front, yet wants to mix it up early, which means a wide, chasing trip seems in the offing. If you’re looking for positives, he does own a two-turn win, but the other side of the equation has him steeply up against it today; taking a strong stand against in all the slots.
#9 Best Plan Yet: Gold’s second runner was a spot behind ‘Famous in the Holy Bull and rates as one of the longer shots in the field as he tries to win away from Calder for the first time. Son of Hear No Evil does own a two-turn stakes win as a juvenile, which is nice, but it’s also not scaring off any of the big boys today, so he’ll need a big step forward to even split this field; tough to endorse.
#10 Our Caravan: Stretch-runner shocked the gallery when he blew up the tote at 35-1 in his debut over the track in December, then didn’t fire when eighth in the Holy Bull, so he’s once again biting off more than he can chew here. Son of Daaher wheels right back for Dilger, a former Pletcher assistant who has done well with a limited number of runners in his brief career, and it’s nice to know he can pass horses late, but he needs an epic pace meltdown to even get a small piece; outsider.
#11 Hesinfront: The second from Romans was a modest fourth to Top Billing in his main track debut last time but has the right to improve off that run, though he’ll need to make a splash today. Son of War Front has the speed to negate this wide draw and sit a nice up-close stalking trip, which helps his chances, though he’s got seven lengths to make up on ‘Billing, not to mention he meets several new salty runners to boot. The price will be big and the gut says we haven’t seen the best of this colt, so if you’re looking for a big number to spice up your exotics, you might want to give a second look here; intriguing at a big number underneath.
#12 Top Billing: Beautifully bred son of Curlin has come to hand quickly for Shug after a sloppy 6F MSW win in his debut at Laurel in December and seems destined to join the upper echelon of 3yos with a good run today. Stretch-runner gave Commissioner all he could handle two-back but really turned heads in his optional claiming win last month, when he essentially swooped the field on the turn and drew off for fun, with his final time only a few ticks slower than Cairo Prince went in the Holy Bull. Stretch-runners are always a tricky commodity going long over this track but geesh, horses simply don’t win like he did in his last, so it’s obvious there’s a ton of talent here. But beating Surfing USA from off the pace is one thing; beating Commissioner, ‘Red and the General is another, especially from this draw, so at a big underlaid price, let’s make him prove it; keying underneath.
#13 East Hall: Longshot wasn’t beaten much when third in the GP Derby and enters off a neck loss over the synthetic at Ocala last time, though he needs to improve open lengths off that run to factor here. Son of Graeme Hall goes for an ice-cold Kaplan barn and drew terribly, so he looks destined for an extremely wide trip, which will only add to his headaches. Useful sort has talent and will win some races this year, but this won’t be one of them; no thanks.
#5 General a Rod
#12 Top Billing