By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter:
When it comes to handicapping races,
six-horse fields aren't usually very hard to analyze, but the $400,000
Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park
could prove to be an exception. The second of three official Kentucky Derby
prep races being held at Gulfstream, the Fountain of Youth has drawn a small
but high-quality field, and while one colt stands above all in terms of proven
talent, his expected low odds could make the race tricky to handicap. Let's take a
look at the entries!
|1||Fellowship||Jose Lezcano||Stanley Gold||3rd Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
|2||Zulu||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)|
|3||Golden Ray||M. Vasquez||Juan Rodriguez||9th American Fabius Starter Stakes (VIDEO)|
|4||Awesome Speed||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Alan Goldberg||1st Mucho Macho Man Stakes (VIDEO)|
|5||Awesome Banner||Jose Caraballo||Stanley Gold||1st Swale Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
|6||Mohaymen||Junior Alvarado||Kiaran McLaughlin||1st Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
In his four starts so far, Mohaymen has done little wrong, with
his talent and versatility carrying him to four consecutive victories,
including three grade II races. In the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream
last month, Mohaymen received a bit of a tricky trip racing in a pocket early on,
but advanced strongly on the inside to take the lead after a slow half-mile in :49.06
seconds. From there, he absolutely flew home the final 4.5 furlongs, running
the third quarter-mile in about :23 2/5, the fourth quarter-mile in :23.52, and
the final sixteenth in :06.03 to win by 3 ½ lengths over the grade I winner
Greenpointcrusader. Regardless of the slow early pace, it's rare to see a Derby
contender accelerate so strongly in the second half of a race, and Mohaymen's
performance has stamped him as a definitive favorite for the Fountain of Youth.
Better still, he's drawn the outside post
position in a small field, giving him the advantage of staying in the clear and
adapting to whatever pace scenario presents itself. Under the circumstances, he
looks almost impossible to beat.
One colt that could give Mohaymen a very
stiff challenge is the unbeaten sprinter Awesome
Banner, who won the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (gr. II) by five lengths in
the time of 1:21.81. The son of Awesome of Course would be a major contender in
his first start around two turns, but it sounds likely that he will scratch to
target the March 12th Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) instead.
Assuming Awesome Banner scratches, then Zulu looks like the most likely
candidate to pull off the upset. His two races have yielded two easy wins at
Gulfstream Park, including a 7 ¼-length romp while never asked for his best run
in a seven-furlong allowance race. The Fountain of Youth will mark his first
start around two turns, but he's bred to handle the distance-being by
Bernardini out of a Summer Squall mare-and you can never discount Todd Pletcher
in Gulfstream's Derby prep races. Remember last year's Fountain of Youth, when
Upstart was expected to win easily but wound up receiving a stiff challenge from
Todd Pletcher's Itsaknockout, who wound up winning by disqualification?
Two other horses that deserve a lot of
respect are Awesome Speed and Fellowship. The former has won his last
three starts in impressive fashion, including the one-mile Mucho Macho Man
Stakes here at Gulfstream Park by 1 ¼ lengths. In that race, he was bumped
around at the start, but recovered to press quick fractions and take command to
win by 1 ¼ lengths over El Charro, with the rest of the field another 6 ½
My only concern about Awesome Speed is that
he gave me the impression that two turns and another sixteenth of a mile might
be a bit too far for him. This could very well prove to be a non-issue, and he
does have the advantage of drawing outside of Zulu, but of the pair, I like
Zulu a little better.
As for Fellowship,
he closed well off a slow pace to finish third in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr.
II), looming a challenger on the far turn and staying on strongly in the
homestretch. It wasn't a flashy performance like those turned in by Mohaymen,
Zulu, and Awesome Speed, but Fellowship has shown a lot of talent and
consistently throughout his career while keeping good company. He seems to be
improving and breezed five furlongs in a bullet :58 3/5 on February 13th.
He's long been a good work horse, posting fast times with frequency, and he's
also shown the ability to adapt to a variety of pace scenarios, coming from far
back in fast-paced races and staying closer in slow-paced races. My gut feeling
is that he'll be outrun to the wire by Mohayman and Zulu, but I wouldn't be
surprised if he cracks the exacta or even wins the race if Mohaymen fails to
bring his best effort.
I'd also like to briefly mention Golden Ray, who enters off a last-place
finish in a starter stakes at Gulfstream Park on February 15th.
He'll be a big longshot, but four starts back he ran a respectable race to beat
Destin in a one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park. In terms of speed
figures, he hasn't run very fast, but he's shown flashes of talent and could be
a meaningful pace factor at the very least.
So who do I think will win the Fountain of
Youth Stakes? In all likelihood, Mohaymen will triumph, but his expected short
odds make him an unappealing choice to win. On the other hand, trying to beat
him could be a challenge, since Zulu, Awesome Speed, and Fellowship look fairly
evenly matched, and playing more than one on top of Mohaymen could make it very
difficult to profit.
Therefore, for the purpose of seeking value,
I'll try to call the straight order of finish for the trifecta: Mohaymen first, Zulu second, and Fellowship third.
I also think that Zulu would offer excellent value in the win pool if he goes
off at 7-2 or more, although I don't think that will happen.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the
Fountain of Youth Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Kentucky Derby Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website http://www.theturfboard.com/.