The Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth will be contested for the 71st time Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Juvneile champion Classic Empire’s surprisingly dull effort in the Holy Bull last month has thrown the Florida division into a state of mild disarray. The horse that was expected to be the heavy favorite at the start of the season is now no longer participating in this race. Instead, we’re left with an intriguing and deep field of runners, many of whom are just one breakout performance away from becoming a top Kentucky Derby contender.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Takaful (#10) will be on the lead in the early going. Based on his debut effort, he is significantly faster than this field, and his riders have had trouble reigning in his early speed in his only two route attempts. The pace is predicted to be fast, which could compromise runners that are forecasted to be chasing Takaful early. One of those figures to be the morning-line favorite, Irish War Cry (#8), who will have to show a new dimension on Saturday after winning the Holy Bull in wire-to-wire fashion.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, HURACAN AMERICO (50-1): It’s certainly unusual to find a Kentucky Derby prospect that has already raced as far as 1 1/2 miles, but that is the case for this Peruvian import. However, I see no indication that he’s beaten anything of quality, and he’s probably overmatched here.
#2, GUNNEVERA (7-2): This son of Dialed In has been steadily improving throughout his career. He first gained attention with his upset victory in the Saratoga Special last summer, but he has since improved over longer distances. He ran better than it might appear in the Breeders’ Futurity behind Classic Empire and then was a dominant last-to-first winner of the Delta Downs Jackpot to close his 2-year-old campaign.
While he was soundly defeated by Irish War Cry when finishing second in the Holy Bull to kick off his 3-year-old campaign, I believe the result might have been different if not for trouble around the far turn. Jockey Javier Castellano spotted a hole inside and was attempting to send Gunnevera up to challenge the leader when the hole closed and Gunnevera was steadied. He lost momentum and a couple lengths of position, which may have cost him the race. Also consider that the pace of the Holy Bull was on the slow side of moderate, which worked against this horse and helped Irish War Cry. Given a fast pace this time, I believe he is a serious threat to turn the tables.
#3, QUINIENTOS (50-1): His lone stakes attempt came against a weak field of restricted runners, and he’s never run fast enough to compete with the likes of the colts he faces here.
#4, TALK LOGISTICS (20-1): He showed promise around one turn to start his career, but was no match for Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull despite getting a great trip. The pace of that race was quite moderate, and he appeared to be in perfect stalking position heading to the top of the stretch. Unfortunately, jockey Paco Lopez was simply out of horse by that point. He probably needs to be turned back to shorter distances.
#5, BEASLEY (6-1): The word on the street is that trainer Mark Hennig is probably going to scratch this horse in favor of the Tampa Bay Derby. If he were to run here, he would have an outside chance to make it into the trifecta. He was second to the highly-regarded Battalion Runner last time, despite drifting out slightly on the far turn. He was game through the stretch, battling that one all the way to the wire. He’s certainly bred to handle longer distances, but he does need to start running some faster races. If he runs, I could include him in exotics.
#6, PRACTICAL JOKE (3-1): Few runners in this crop put together a better 2-year-old campaign. He picked off the two most prestigious juvenile events run in New York – the Hopeful and Champagne – before finishing third behind champion Classic Empire and the since-retired Not This Time in the Breeders’ Cup. While he ran quite well in the Breeders’ Cup, some walked away from that race with the impression that he does not really want to go two turns. After all, he got a relatively good trip that day and appeared poised to match strides with Not This Time at the quarter pole before flattening out in the final furlongs.
Like all of the others, he comes into this race with something to prove. Yet Chad Brown has been singing his praises, sounding quite enthusiastic about his morning training coming into this race. The short stretch going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream may actually work in his favor if he does have stamina issues, and the projected pace scenario should benefit horses with his running style. He is a top contender for win honors, but I wonder what kind of price he’ll be.
#7, THREE RULES (12-1): Like Practical Joke, he came into the Breeders’ Cup having never lost, but he found himself to be no match for the top two finishers while finishing sixth. He did get a slightly more taxing trip than Practical Joke, chasing a fast pace while racing three wide throughout. His return race at Gulfstream in the Swale was an encouraging effort. It’s certainly no disgrace losing to Favorable Outcome, who appears to be a very talented sprinter, and Three Rules was out of position early in that race after stumbling at the start. His one successful race around two turns came against much weaker company, so he has to prove that he can withstand a fast pace and keep going late against some of the best 3-year-old in the land. He’s an easy horse to root for, but I think he might find one or two others to be too much for him to handle in this spot.
#8, IRISH WAR CRY (5-2): This son of Curlin has to be considered one of the most exciting Kentucky Derby prospects. His trainer, Graham Motion, has previously been victorious on the first Saturday in May with Animal Kingdom, and this colt served notice that he might be that kind of horse with his dominant win the Holy Bull. There is quality and stamina throughout this New Jersey-bred’s pedigree, so there’s little reason to be concerned about longer distances down the line.
Yet the question at hand remains: Is he a worthy bet in this race? In short, probably not. As previously mentioned, he fell into a perfect trip in the Holy Bull, finding himself on the lead through relatively slow fractions as the other speeds in the race decided not to go. That will not be the case this time. Furthermore, he would have received a stiff late challenge from Gunnevera in that race had that one not encountered trouble on the far turn. Now, he must come from off the pace – something he hasn’t done since his debut – and potentially take dirt in his face for the first time. I’m still a fan of this horse and would love to see him continue to do well, but I have to side with others.
#9, MADE YOU LOOK (10-1): He’s been a turf horse and has a pedigree that is primarily geared toward turf. Trainer Todd Pletcher has had absolutely no success with these kinds of moves over the past five years. According to DRF Formulator, Pletcher is 0 for 9, with just one runner hitting the board, when switching horses from turf to scheduled dirt races in graded stakes for 3-year-olds. He’s hard to recommend.
#10, TAKAFUL (12-1): This Shadwell homebred clearly possesses a great deal of talent. It takes a pretty special runner to put forth the kind of effort that he did in his debut. After setting fast fractions going 6 1/2 furlongs, he drew off with authority in the stretch, registering an eight-length victory. He earned a gigantic 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the effort – the highest number in this field. Yet since that race, his connections have been trying to turn him into a Kentucky Derby prospect, and the results have been mixed, at best. He actually didn’t run that badly in the Remsen after spurting away from the field in the opening furlongs. However, horse after horse has come back out of that race to underperform in subsequent starts, with winner Mo Town being just latest example in last weekend’s Risen Star. He followed that effort with a dismal performance in the Jerome. He may not have cared for the sloppy track, but he also appears to have stamina issues, so it’s curious that his connections are pressing on in two-turn races. He’ll be a strong factor early in the race, but I doubt he’ll be around late.
#11, LOOKIN FOR EIGHT (20-1): I wish this lightly-raced colt had drawn a better post position because there are some things to like about him. He earned a competitive 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure for his maiden win last time, and he is bred to stretch out in distance. However, trainer Mark Casse gets a relatively poor 62 TimeformUS Trainer Rating with runners making the first start for his barn after a trainer switch. He’s hard to endorse Saturday, but I will watch out for him later in the season.
The three main players are Gunnevera (#2), Practical Joke (#6), and Irish War Cry (#8). The latter is likely to be an underlay off his impressive but pace-aided win in the Holy Bull. Practical Joke still has some questions to answer as he returns from the layoff, so I’m landing on Gunnevera who figures to be the most generous price of the three.
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 5,6,7,8
Trifecta: 2 with 6,8 with 5,6,7,8,10,11