by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Gulfstream Park: The GII, $400,000 Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
#1 Fellowship (20-1): Intriguing longshot was a good third, albeit six lengths behind today’s heavy favorite Mohaymen, in the local GII Holy Bull last month and seems to be coming into his own for Gold, who has the field bookended nicely as this son of Awesome of Course is a confirmed closer while his uncoupled stablemate Awesome Banner is pure sprint speed. And before you dismiss him, don’t forget that the Holy Bull was at two turns, and his only other two-turn start over the track was a romp in the In Reality in October, so it’s obvious that he’s doing what he loves to do. On paper he’s not fast enough to win this, and he’s obviously well behind the big horse, but if they go too fast early and the chasers get fried by the heat his stablemate is dishing out, then there’s a very good chance this dude picks up a lot of pieces; expecting another good showing.
#2 Zulu (3-1): The buzz horse is 2-for-2 here going one-turn to start his career but now steps way up and will likely run over a fast track for the first time as he looks to bridge the gap to the graded stakes ranks. And while both wins have been impressive, it’s not like they’ve been fast, and you get the impression that if “Pletcher Todd A” didn’t appear next to “trainer” in the Racing Form, he’d be 12-1, as opposed to the 4-1 you’ll likely get at the windows today. And that’s before we even mention that he’s going to have to do the dirty work of chasing Awesome Banner, making first run on him entering the far turn and then holding off the favorite for the Kentucky Derby who is undefeated and already a local two-turn stakes winner. So yeah, while there may be a lot of talent here, it seems like an awful lot to ask of a horse who may be biting off a bit more than he can chew; taking a strong stand against in all the slots.
#3 Golden Ray (30-1): So you have to think the conversation went something like “We’ve only got five, it’s a short field and there’s $400,000 on the line, why don’t you run and try to get a little piece?” because there’s really no other reason this overmatched runner would be entered. Son of American Lion was beaten a mile by fellow runner Awesome Speed in the local Mucho Macho Man back in early January and is just far too overmatched on paper to compete in here. Low-percentage trainer Juan Rodriguez is an unknown commodity in these ranks and it’s tough to envision this gelding doing anything to change that today; get home safely.
#4 Awesome Speed (4-1): Talented runner enters this as the forgotten horse, but he was very impressive winning the Mucho Macho Man and has every right to relish the added distance and second turn he gets here, as dad Awesome Again and damsire Aptitude were true two-turn horses. His outside draw should work, too, as he’ll be stalking Awesome Banner and Zulu and will likely be ahead of Mohaymen, so he should enjoy a good trip. From there it’s anyone’s guess to how good he is, but you have to like the fact that Goldberg backed off after the sharp local win and aimed here, and those works at Palm Meadows sure indicate that he hasn’t missed a beat, so if you’re a fan, you’ll be getting a very nice number to come along for the ride; price players have their hero.
#5 Awesome Banner (7-2): Freakishly fast son of Awesome of Course has won his three sprint starts—all over this oval—by a combined 19 1/2 lengths and will try two turns and stretch out past seven furlongs for the first time in an effort to see which path Gold will take with him for the rest of the winter. Speedster will no doubt be in front for as long as he can take them, and his pedigree says this middle distance is within his scope, so it’s really just a matter of how kindly he relaxes on the engine and how much pressure he takes from Zulu and Awesome Speed, who aren’t fast enough to keep up with him early but have enough tactical speed to keep him honest. This track is known to cater to his running style and carry horses a lot farther than you might think they’ll go, and he’s widened in the lane in all three wins, so it’s not like he’s been gasping at the line, either. So sure, he might pop and stop, but if he’s three lengths clear entering the far turn, he may get brave and pose a real danger, though the gut says he’ll be softened up enough to relent when the big horse next door comes calling; thinking he wins the battle but loses the war.
#6 Mohaymen (6-5): Deserving heavy chalk (think 2-5, not 6-5) made it four in a row with a thoroughly dominant 3yo debut when he won the Holy Bull over GI winner Greenpointcrusader, who would be a solid second choice in here, so right away you know this son of Tapit will take plenty of beating. Tactical runner has been expertly handled so far by McLaughlin, and with plenty of speed to his inside, it looks like he’ll get an ideal stalking trip from 4-6 lengths back before making his move off the far turn. And the scary thing about that awesome return was that you know he wasn’t fully cranked that day, which means you’re very likely dealing with a tighter, fitter horse in here, and with several making their first foray into the two-turn graded stakes waters and this guy already a seasoned pro, it looks like another “name the score” type of scenario; can’t see him losing to this modest crew.
#5 Awesome Banner
#4 Awesome Speed