The Kentucky Derby trail leads to South Florida and the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday afternoon.
Good Magic (7-5), the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and 2-year-old champion of 2017 headlines the Grade 2 $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes. A key prep race for the Florida Derby, the Fountain of Youth is a 1 1/16 mile trek around the Gulfstream Park oval.
The 16-race "Kentucky Derby Championship Series" began two weeks ago with the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds Race Course won by Post Time second choice 22-1 Bravazo. Points to the top four finishers of the Fountain of Youth will be distributed on a 50-20-10-5 basis.
The last Fountain of Youth winner to don the roses in Louisville was Orb who also captured the Florida Derby before winning the Derby. The race, scheduled for approximately 6:09 p.m. ET, is Race 14 on Saturday’s Gulfstream Park card and will be shown live on Fox Sports 2.
The Juvy winner is the class of the field and the heavy morning line favorite to boot. It is his 2018 debut race after winning at Del Mar last November with authority by 4 1/4-lengths over his closest rival. Ranked No. 1 on the current National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s top ten poll, he’s trainer Chad Brown’s best Derby hopeful of his brilliant career.
Brown will likely not race the son of Curlin again at Gulfstream, with plans to skip the Florida Derby in favor of either the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Grade 2 Bluegrass at Keeneland. Those two races to be run on Apr. 7, would provide Good Magic an extra week of rest coming out of Saturday’s race.
“The year is filled with promise. The horse, knock on wood, is very healthy. His battery is recharged. He’s a fresh horse,” Brown said. “We’re excited to get his 3-year-old year kicked off and hopefully one filled with success and no interruptions.”
A four-week gap between races before the Derby would set him up to be at peak performance on the First Saturday of May, running third off the layoff on his form. Eclipse award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz remains in the irons aboard last year’s 2-year-old champ.
He’ll face nine other colts in the race and on paper looks like he should dominate this group. However, these horses are still young and maturing and big changes can happen over the winter before entering their sophomore year. We’ve already seen upsets of the favorites in the Sam F. Davis (Catholic Boy) and in the Risen Star (Instilled Regard) where heavy favorites were beaten.
In shopping for value and potential big priced contenders, I landed on the Dale Romans’ trained Storm Runner (15-1). The son of Get Stormy has stamina in his pedigree and has two wins at the distance. The colt who only cost $5,000 as a yearling and went off at odds of 160-1 in his maiden debut at Ellis Park, looked sharp in his workout on Feb. 24.
“He’s such an inexpensive yearling, said Romans. "He’s been under the radar behind the big horses, but he’s as good as anybody.”
He’s already run at Ellis, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Gulfstream, so he’s a well-traveled colt who will step into deeper waters against Good Magic and barn mate Free Drop Billy (9-2).
If you’re a Sheets player, you have to like his chances coming into the Fountain of Youth. His speedy time in the Gulfstream allowance race, where he bested the well-regarded Mississippi, was eye-opening. His Sheets figure was better than owner Barry Irwin’s other Derby prep winners, including Animal Kingdom at this juncture of the season.
Free Drop Billy has faced nothing but graded stakes competition since breaking his maiden for Romans. He’s the only other Grade 1 winner in the field outside of Good Magic, winning the Breeders’ Futurity last October at Keeneland. Robby Albarado will have the ride aboard the second choice on the morning line.
He didn’t fire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in San Diego, finishing a well-beat ninth, the only blemish on his resume. He finished second in the Holy Bull to Audible last month on this track and he’ll need some pace to close into. The Gulfstream strip is extremely difficult for closers, requiring in all likelihood a major pace meltdown to help his chances.
“The biggest thing about his (Holy Bull) performance is that it shows the race in California was just a fluke and he came back to his old form. You don’t know for sure until you run a horse. I was very pleased with his race,” said Romans.
The son of Union Rags will likely thrive as the distances get longer and this track and the shorter 8 1/2-furlong distance is enough to stay away from using him on top, but he’ll be coming late so using underneath will be the recipe.
Another sleeper who looks to be coming into form is He Takes Charge (20-1) who finally broke his maiden in his fifth try, but has shown steady improvement since his 2-year-old season. The son of Tapit out of a Storm Cat mare won impressively in his maiden breaker closing into a fast pace.
He was purchased for $625,000, second only to Good Magic’s $1 million price tag in the race. Trainer Mark Casse puts Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle of the gray colt. He sports a solid workout on Feb. 24 and looks to be very sharp coming into the race.
This race has proved to be formful over the years and according to the Hello Race Fans! website, the favorite has emerged the winner at a 35 percent win rate. It’s hard to ignore the talent of Good Magic, key boxing him in exactas with Storm Runner and He Takes Charge may be the avenue to a nice payday on this week’s Derby trail.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Good Magic; 2 – Storm Runner; 3 – He Takes Charge; 4- Free Drop Billy
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.
The field for the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth (G2):
1 – He Takes Charge – 20-1
2 – Free Drop Billy – 9-2
3 – Peppered – 30-1
4 – Strike Power – 4-1
5 – Storm Runner – 15-1
6 – Good Magic – 7-5
7 – Gotta Go – 10-1
8 – Marconi – 8-1
9 – Machismo – 15-1
10 – Promises Fulfilled – 20-1