Gulfstream Park: The $400,000 GII Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 50-20-10-5)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 Code of Honor (6-1): Well-regarded son of Noble Mission has some Jekyll and Hyde in him, as he made a lot of friends when second in the GI Champagne at Belmont Park in October, then bombed at odds-on in his 3-year-old debut in the local Mucho Macho Man, so what you get today seems like a bit of a guess. There are a lot of positives, though, and to see McGaughey forge on is one of them, as is this draw and his tactical speed in a race with the first finish line, which will play against the stretch-runners. The works here are strong as well, so the gut says we’ll see the best he has to offer today, though whether that’s good enough or not remains to be seen; exotics appeal.
#2 Epic Dreamer (20-1): The potential inside speed ran well when a close fourth in the local GII Holy Bull last month, after setting an extremely hot pace that buried the heavy chalk but subsequently set it up for a pair of longshot closers. Son of Orb seems to take all the worst of it here, though, as there’s plenty of speed and pressers to his outside, and this group is eons better than the one he just faced, not to mention Breen is having a very slow meet; pop and stop time.
#3 Gladiator King (50-1): Expected longest shot on the board for Mejia pressed a hot pace turf sprinting last time in the local Texas Glitter and held well to be third, so you know he’s going to add a ton of fuel to the early fire, though this son of Curlin hasn’t done anything remotely close on the main track to suggest he’ll be around when the real running begins; easy toss.
#4 Bourbon War (10-1): Intriguing sort really impressed winning his 3yo debut over the track and distance last time for Hennig, who has had a rough go of it at the meet but appears to have a nice colt on his hands here. Lightly-raced son of Tapit doesn’t have a lot of speed, which isn’t ideal here, though he’s already shown he can handle the trip, so that helps alleviate some concern, though clearly this is a much better group today. His detractors will point to the distant fourth to end his 2-year-old campaign in Aqueduct’s GII Remsen, though that was also a big ask trying winners and two turns off just a debut win. That comeback sure was a good one, and the price and race flow seem to work here, too, so you have every right to think he can make a big dent today; price players have their hero.
#5 Vekoma (7-2): Arguably New York’s best 2yo makes his long-anticipated sophomore debut after a 2-for-2 campaign that ended with a dominant win in Aqueduct’s GII Nashua, where he stalked the early pace and pulled clear late to announce his presence on the national scene. Weaver has taken his time with this son of Candy Ride, and this is just the start of what he hopes will be a serious campaign, but judging by that 2/23 bullet it’s all systems go today, especially since these are pivotal Derby points up for grabs. The other feather in his cap is his stalking style, which should allow him to trip out perfectly off the speed while getting first run on the closers, so with all that’s going for him here, the rest better have their running shoes on; onward and upward.
#6 Signalman (9-2): Stretch-runner got up late to win Churchill’s Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club in the slop to close out his 2yo season in November, which backed up his solid third in the BC Juvenile earlier in the month in Louisville. Modestly-bred son of General Quarters has proven a bargain for McPeek, who has a nice string of 3yos this year, though there are hurdles here, too, most notably his running style; he hasn’t been out for a bit; and he has yet to do any real running away from CD, too. So, with all that in mind, and a potentially underlaid price, too, let’s watch one and see what he comes up with; siding against.
#7 Hidden Scroll (9-5): The next immortal titan of the turf ran off the screen in his debut, running a ridiculously fast figure in the process, and immediately thrusting himself towards or to the top of everyone’s Derby list. Of course, what you won’t hear nearly as much was that it came in the slop, on a ridiculously fast inside speed bias of a day, in a race where no one else did any real running, so sure, this Juddmonte homebred son of Hard Spun appears to have a world of talent, but let’s take a step back and take an objective view here and realize nothing that happened last time will be similar to the circumstances he encounters today, a list that includes going two turns, likely not making the front, taking dirt in his face, having to pass horses, facing winners, running on a fast track, and so on. It’s great to see Mott show up with what appears to be a very talented 3yo, and just maybe this colt is the goods, but taking a short price on these types is a way to go broke very quickly in this game; quite comfortable making him prove it.
#8 Global Campaign (10-1): Yet another of the potential speed brigade pressed an optional-claimer over the track and distance last month to make it 2-for-2, but he came home slowly and just didn’t show the brilliance he did in his debut sprint win here in January, so there’s some bloom off his rose for sure. Beautifully bred son of Curlin thrusts Hough back into the fray, which is great to see, but off that last run, and a less than ideal trip coming today, you get the feeling his rubber band is about to snap; waiting for the cutback.
#9 Everfast (20-1): Son of Take Charge Indy took advantage of the fast pace in the Holy Bull and was up late for second at 128-1, in what was an implausible outcome that clearly no one saw coming, even though Romans has shown time and again he can blow up the board in these GP Derby preps. If you’re a believer, you’ll still get plenty of value, and the race flow will work for him, too, but the Holy Bull just seemed fluky, and this group is much better, too, so a double-up seems like a big ask; minor award appears his ceiling.
#10 Frosted Grace (30-1): Sprinter will try two turns for the first time in a less than ideal spot, though as a son of Mark Valeski he’s at least bred for the trip, and he’s shown he can settle a bit early, too, which is a positive in a race with plenty of speed. The worry is that this wide draw, and the fact he’s been coming out of some fast-paced sprints, means he’ll be keyed up early and raring to go, so it’s tough to think he can make a dent here for Ritvo, who seems to be really reaching off that meek fourth in the local GIII Swale last month; not seeing it.
#11 Union’s Destiny (30-1): Versatile son of Union Rags will be a big price here, though he was actually third and comfortably ahead of Code of Honor in the Mucho Macho Man, which was a huge improvement off his MSW win here when last seen in August. Versatile sort takes all the worst of it at the draw, though he sure is working well for Avila, but he’s likely going to be wide and chasing/pressing every step of the way, which won’t help, especially since he’s extremely outgunned on paper; tough to endorse.
#4 Bourbon War
#1 Code of Honor
#7 Hidden Scroll