It's amazing how one bad race--or in this case, a stroke of bad luck--can change the Kentucky Derby picture.
Prior to the Fountain of Youth, many people had Buddy's Saint near the top of their Derby lists. Along with Lookin At Lucky, he was the most impressive 2-year-old in the country and had been working very well up to the Fountain of Youth. A strong performance there would have solidified his status as one of the Derby favorites.
Instead, after being roughed up along the first turn and being taken out of the race less than a furlong into the race, the Fountain of Youth turned into nightmare. While it was the coming out party for Eskendereya, it also raised severe question marks about the prospects of Buddy's Saint as a legitimate Derby contender. Even trainer Bruce Levine acknowledged that.
"I haven't lost confidence in the horse, but at the same time I don't know how much he got out of the race," said Levine on March 5. "It's hard to say and only time will tell. Would I have liked to see him have a harder race? Sure. It was very frustrating. But this is the hand we were dealt and we have to move on."
Levine went on to say: "He has to be one-two in the Wood for us to proceed. He has to redeem himself. I'm not interested in going to the Derby with a 30-1 shot just so we can say we were at the Derby."
Yes, the Wood Memorial on April 3 will tell the story for Buddy's Saint. He will either show the same ability he did when romping in the Nashua and Remsen as a juvenile, or he will likely stay home on the first Saturday in May.
Levine chose the Wood over the March 27 Florida Derby reluctantly. Bounced around like a pinball and knocked into the rail in the Fountain of Youth, Buddy's Saint came out of the race sore, forcing Levine to push back his workout schedule by a few days. The trainer said his star would likely have his first work back next Saturday, March 13.
"He probably missed about three or four days," Levine said. "I would have probably had his first work back on Wednesday if he hadn't been sore. But he's pretty fit, so that shouldn't be a big deal. He has been breezing good all winter."
But Levine conceded: "I was kind of leaning toward the Florida Derby (before the Fountain of Youth) because of the weather and not having to ship. It's a little disappointing."
Jockey Jose Lezcano was blamed by many, including myself, for getting Buddy's Saint into trouble in the Fountain of Youth. It was his decision to rush the horse up and shoot for a small opening that caused the debacle. However, Levine does not totally blame Lezcano.
"The horse didn't break sharply and was behind the eight-ball from the start," Levine said. "(Lezcano) tried to go for a hole that was very small. If he doesn't go for that hole, he would have been 8 to 10 lengths back and you're not making up that kind of ground on that track. You have to be near the front to win. That's just the way it is there. The jock knew that, so he went for it. I give him credit for trying. He felt very bad about what happened.
"A lot of people have been telling me to change jocks, but I still have confidence in him. I'm not changing."
Levine said Buddy's Saint would have a light gallop tomorrow and return to the track at Gulfstream on Sunday.