Fountain of Youth and Sham Thoughts

Another week, another new Kentucky Derby contender from Florida. Actually, make that two.

With Quality Road's resounding win in the Fountain of Youth and Theregoesjojo's impressive runner-up, the Florida picture has certainly become much clearer. Notontheamepage and This Ones for Phil, who both bounced like racquetballs, and Capt. Candyman Can took major steps backward, while Beethoven remained on the cusp of the Derby picture.

But in the Florida Derby should now be much easier to handicap than the FOY was, as Quality Road, Theregoesjojo and Dunkirk seem to be the three to beat. I'm not sure about you, but there isn't much else from South Florida that scares me for May 2nd.

So how good was Quality Road's FOY win? It's hard to tell simply because of Gulfstream's unrelenting speed bias. With the exception of Beethoven, who closed very well from last, and Theregoesjojo, nobody made up ground on the leaders. It's been that way all meet.

First, the positives. Quality Road was visually impressive. He rated well and showed great speed when drawing off in the stretch. And his final time of 1:35 was very solid. The Elusive Quality colt has nice 10-furlong pedigree and should want to go longer. To do what he did in his third career start was terrific, no question about it. I'm not sure what his Beyer was yet, but to me it doesn't matter on that track right now. The 114 by Notonthesamepage and 116 by This Ones for Phil last out shows how little speed numbers mean sometimes.

As good as Quality Road looked, I am not completely sold yet. First, it must be noted that he was receiving 6-8 pounds from most of the other starters, which is fairly significant. He was also on lasix for the first time, which can add that extra zip to a lot of horses. He also received a perfect stalking trip in back of a fast pace (:45.55 and 1:09.40), and like I said, nobody is closing on that track.

I like Quality Road. His talent is obvious. But like Dunkirk, I'm not one to get overly-excited about one win. With horses that don't have much 2-year-old foundation, I need to see it two races in a row. Let's keep it all in perspective until the Florida Derby.

Theregoesjojo was actually slightly more impressive to me. For the second straight race he made a monster move around the turn. In watching the replay, I have to question why Desormeaux took him wide. It looked like there was plenty of room on the rail if he had stayed there and he would have had a much better run at Quality Road had he saved the ground. I'm not saying he would have beat the winner, but he certainly wouldn't have lost by four lengths. I think this horse will only get better and better. And don't forget, he has two starts over the Churchill dirt. He is for real.

Again, Beethoven closing from last on a dead track must be noted. I've never been super high on this horse, but he deserves respect for making up all that ground when nobody else did. He gets another chance.

As a side note, there were two very good-looking maiden winners on the FOY undercard on Saturday worth mentioning. First, in race 5, Smarty Bull won a $30,000 maiden claimer by seven lengths in her first start. Her final time of 1:11.78 for six furlongs wasn't great, but it's a Smarty Jones, so worth mentioning. She is out of a Holy Bull mare and trained by Jason Servis.

Then, in race 10, Affirmatif drew off like a rocket to win by nine lengths on the turf in a one-mile maiden special weight. By Unbridled's Song, who is having a heck of a winter, Affirmatif is out of the Affirmed mare Wichitoz. It will be interesting to see what Todd Pletcher has in mind for this colt.

As far as the Sham, give The Pamplemousse his due. The horse looks like he wants to run all day and he has really nice leg action. He certainly hasn't done anything wrong up until this point. He's a nice story.

However, let's be honest. That field was pretty weak. There was nothing in there that will be a factor in the Derby and when you let a fast horse like The Pamplemousse alone on the lead, that's what happens. I want to see this horse headed. I want to see him face some quality. He beat four horses in the San Rafael and nothing of note in the Sham. I want to wait until to the Santa Anita Derby before I say he's the real deal. It should be fun to see him get a shot at Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy, and maybe Stardom Bound. Until then, I am reserving judgment. Sorry.

Finally, just a note on a new feature I'll be having on this Triple Crown Talk for the next two months leading up until the Derby. Beginning this Saturday, March 7, I will be doing a "live" blog from noon to 1 p.m EDT. We can use this forum to discuss the Gotham and Santa Anita Handicap later in the day, or anything related to horse racing. I'll be doing it solo this time, but in the future I will have feature guests, including professional handicappers. If you have any question that you'd like to ask, please join in the discussion. It should be fun.

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