Gulfstream Park: The Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points 50-20-10-5
by Brian Nadeau
#1 He Takes Charge (20-1): Experienced runner took five starts to break through but did look good winning over the track and distance last time, and this rail draw is perfect for his stalking style since he’ll be able to save all the ground. Well-bred son of Tapit figures to make his run from the second flight today, and there does appear to be a legitimate pace to aid him, and we all know this is the time of year these 3-year-olds can wake up overnight, too, so he’s hardly without hope for a piece of what is a very weak race, aside from the heavy chalk. Casse has been having a super meet, and the price will be right here; if this colt does decide to improve a few lengths off that confidence-builder, there’s no reason he can’t spice up your exotics; price appeal.
#2 Free Drop Billy (9-2): One of the potential main dangers to the favorite made his name at 2 winning an extremely weak and subpar renewal of the GI Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, and he did it in plowhorse time, too, so it was no surprise to see him get exposed when a distant ninth to today’s imposing favorite Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar in November. But a funny thing happened in his seasonal debut when he was second here to upstart Audible in the GII Holy Bull, and that’s that he improved on his best 2yo speed figure by a large margin (much like Bravazo, who he beat at Keeneland, did this year at Oaklawn Park before winning the GII Risen Star at Fair Grounds), and that’s always a good sign for a newly minted 3yo. The first of three for Romans still has to prove he can beat a top horse this year, and he’ll get bet here, too, but this son of Union Rags may have turned the corner and could be poised to improve once again off that seasonal debut; logical if ‘Magic stumbles. SCRATCHED: will run in the Gotham next Saturday at Aqueduct, per DRF’s Mike Welsch
#3 Peppered (30-1): Huge longshot was 12th-of-14 in his only dirt start in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club to end his 2yo campaign in November and sure does pick an ambitious spot to make his first start at 3. If you’re really reaching, he did have some trouble that day, and it’s a confident sign that Baker sees fit to try this son of Tapizar in such a gaudy spot off the break, but up to this point he’s only shown anything on the Polytrack at Woodbine, so you have to think this is just a prep to get him to Turfway Park and then back to the Great White North; easy toss.
#4 Strike Power (4-1): The horse to catch was brilliant winning his debut here in December in lightning fast time, then workmanlike in taking the GIII Swale here last month, and he will now look to stretch his speed to two turns for the first time. Son of Speightstown is certainly bred for this trip and has shown a ton of promise for Hennig in those first two starts, not to mention that he’s expected to shake out as the controlling speed, with the rest of the pace players breaking from the outside two slots, but this is a big ask off just two sprint wins. Now is the time to find out what’s underneath the hood, and he could get brave if they leave him alone on the lead, but this seems like a big ask, at underlaid odds, too, for a horse that was unraced a little over two months ago; quite comfortable making him prove it.
#5 Storm Runner (15-1): The second entrant here for Romans made a sharp middle move and held on late to win an optional claimer over the track and distance last month while defeating a nice Casse prospect in Mississippi, and he gets the acid test today to see where he fits in with the big boys. Don’t dismiss him too quickly, though, as his poor runs have been on turf, and he is 3-2-1-0 on the main track, though this is admittedly a big leap for a Get Stormy colt who has never run remotely fast enough to make a dent here. On the face of it, this is too steep a hill to climb, but he does fall in the same boat that ‘Charge is in on the rail, in that he could be getting good at the right time; thinking he fires another big shot.
#6 Good Magic (7-5): Reigning 2yo champ makes his much-anticipated 3yo debut after a smashing maiden victory in the Juvenile, where he drilled a solid field that contained the heavy favorite Bolt d’Oro, so you know all eyes will be on him today as he starts what will be a two-race prep season to the Derby. Son of Curlin progressed quickly last year for Brown and tipped his hand with a fine second in Belmont Park’s GI Champagne; he has worked very forwardly for this, and considering what a tight schedule he’s on (by design), you would expect him to be ready to deliver today, as he doesn’t have a lot of room for error. Obviously the screws won’t be fully tightened, and he’s eligible to need a race to shake off some rust, but there’s just nothing in here and this is one serious race horse; can’t see him losing to a group like this.
#7 Gotta Go (10-1): Stretch-out sprinter clucked along for a “someone had to be second” behind ‘Power in the Swale and will now try two turns again, after he was an extremely troubled 13th in the Kentucky Jockey Club to wrap up his freshman season. Son of Shanghai Bobby has done some good things for Wilkes in the races where he’s had a chance, and that includes a win in the one-turn mile Street Sense at CD, so he’s got a bit of quality to him, and that return last month gives him something to build on as well. And therefore, he’s yet another that, with some improvement, could make a dent for a minor award, though is equally hard to trust that he can deliver it; mixed signals.
#8 Marconi (8-1): Long-striding son of Tapit has logged a lot of furlongs and now miles for Pletcher in his three starts, as he ran 9 of them in all three of his outings at Aqueduct and now travels down the length of I-95 to see how he stacks up with the Floridians. It’s an odd move, too, as he was a meek third in the GIII Withers last time, in what was a modest renewal that was won in slow time, and now he cuts back a half-furlong, too, which really doesn’t figure to flatter him any. Stretch-runner won’t like this typically speed-favoring track, either, and you know he’ll be overbet for these connections, even though up to this point he’s really done nothing to warrant a look in a race like this; not a fan.
#9 Machismo (15-1): Rousing local MSW winner doesn’t figure to be a win threat today, but you can argue that he’s the most important horse in the race, as he’s got a lot of speed and the rest of them are relying on this son of More Than Ready to keep ‘Power honest early on. And considering he’s never been past 6 1/2 furlongs, and drew wide, he could be on the muscle and asked to go early so that he doesn’t lose any position into the first turn. Quartarolo sure throws him into the deep end of the pool off just that scant maiden win, but that’s owner Looch’s style, and off an 11 1/4-length romp, it’s tough to blame them, even though it won’t lead to success today; pop and stop time.
#10 Promises Fulfilled (20-1): The last of the Romans trio had a nice 2yo season, which wrapped up in a fine third in the Kentucky Jockey Club, though that race has come under scrutiny, since the top two, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, were buried by Audible when a distant fourth and third, respectively, in the Holy Bull. If nothing else, this son of Shackleford showed a lot of promise last year and has worked well for this, and he is tactical enough to seemingly negate the worst draw of all, as he’s likely going to simply follow the path of Machismo and try and tuck in before the first turn. He’s going to have to run much faster than ever to get a piece here, but it’s not out of the realm, as that has seemed to be a blueprint to a lot of these comebackers this year, though even marked improvement might not be enough to bring home a big check; iffy.
#6 Good Magic
#5 Storm Runner
#2 Free Drop Billy
#1 He Takes Charge