By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The stage is set, the horses are ready, and fans of the
Kentucky Derby are excited to witness the seasonal debut of the champion Good Magic in the $400,000 Fountain of
Youth Stakes (gr. II) on March 3rd at Gulfstream Park.
The talented son of Curlin is considered the early
favorite to win the Kentucky Derby and sits atop numerous media rankings of the
top Derby contenders, including my own Top 10 list. Trained by Chad Brown, Good
Magic flashed signs of major talent in his first two starts last year,
finishing a close second in his debut sprinting at Saratoga before jumping
right up into stakes company and running second in the one-mile Champagne
Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, beaten just a half-length despite making an early
move into a quick pace.
With these strong efforts under his belt, Good Magic made
his two-turn debut in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Del Mar and
delivered a tremendous performance. After rating a few lengths off the pace,
Good Magic shifted outside and rolled past the leaders in the homestretch, finishing
strongly to win by 4 ¼ lengths while earning an eye-catching 100 Beyer speed
The list of horses that Good Magic has beaten reads like
a "who's who" of prominent Derby contenders, including Bolt d'Oro, Solomini,
Enticed, and Firenze Fire. If he improves at all as a three-year-old (certainly
a possibility since he's a son of Curlin out of a Hard Spun mare), I think Good
Magic could have a very productive and successful year.
But at the same time, I think it's important to keep in
mind that the Fountain of Youth Stakes is hardly the end goal for Good Magic-it's
one of his two scheduled prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and while Good
Magic is surely ready to give a good account of himself, I don't think he's
fully cranked to give his absolute best. Remember, on two occasions in the
past, Chad Brown has embarked on the Derby trail with horses that were
accomplished as juveniles and regarded as top-tier Derby candidates. Those
horses were Normandy Invasion in 2013 and Practical Joke in 2017, and although
Brown ultimately got them to run huge on the first Saturday in May (they
finished fourth and fifth, respectively, despite subsequently proving to be
best as milers), neither of them won a single prep race prior to the Kentucky
Practical Joke might be a particularly relevant example,
for he ended his juvenile season (which saw him win two Grade 1 races) with a
respectable third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, after which he
was given a winter break before gearing up for the Fountain of Youth. In
preparation for his return, Practical Joke posted seven workouts at Palm
Meadows Training Center (three of them bullets), but in the Fountain of Youth
he flattened out after making a big move around the far turn and finished a
Good Magic brings a similar work pattern into the
Fountain of Youth, though with six workouts under his belt instead of seven.
Obviously, Good Magic and Practical Joke are two different horses, but the similarities
in the racing and training schedules has me wondering if Good Magic could be in
need of a race this Saturday. In addition, if Good Magic does lose the Fountain
of Youth it would hardly be the first time a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has been
beaten at a short price while making his three-year-old debut at Gulfstream
Park--Hansen, Shanghai Bobby, and Classic Empire all come to mind from recent
years. In each case, they were beaten by horses that had the advantage of a
For these reasons, I'm going to side with a horse that
fits the profile of recent Fountain of Youth winners--Free Drop Billy. A son of 2012 Fountain of Youth and Belmont Stakes
(gr. I) winner Union Rags, Free Drop Billy enjoyed a highly productive
two-year-old season, competing against top company while recording a
four-length win in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and runner-up efforts in the Hopeful
Stakes (gr. I) and Sanford Stakes (gr. III). His Breeders' Futurity effort was
particularly noteworthy, as the second-place finisher, Bravazo, came back to
win the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds to stamp himself as a Derby
contender in his own right.
Free Drop Billy ended the year with a distant ninth-place
finish behind Good Magic in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, though he did spend the
race running near the rail on a day when it was best to be on the outside
portion of the track. In any case, he rebounded in a big way when returning to
action in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, and while he was
beaten yet again, I really loved his performance.
In the Holy Bull, Free Drop Billy found himself in tight
quarters early on, but refused to relinquish his position and soon settled a
couple of lengths behind fractions of :23.59 and :47.14 while racing outside of
horses. Around the far turn, he made a strong move to vie for the lead and
appeared poised to win the race until Audible--making his move at the same time
but from a more forwardly-placed position--accelerated in the homestretch to
leave Free Drop Billy 5 ½ lengths behind. At first glance, it appears that Free
Drop Billy was soundly defeat, but while this is true to some extent it's
important to note that Audible ran a tremendous race in victory, running the
final five-sixteenths of a mile in an exceptional :29.92 seconds. According to
Trakus Free Drop Billy ran this portion of the race in :30.84 seconds (also a
strong time), which is why he managed to leave the rest of the field 7 ¾ lengths
behind at the finish.
For that effort, Free Drop Billy received a career-best
90 Beyer speed figure, and notably, only two of his Fountain of Youth rivals
(Good Magic and Strike Power) have ever earned a Beyer higher than 84. For
Saturday's race, Free Drop Billy has drawn an advantageous inside post position
with a short run to the first turn, which should help him work out a good trip.
At the very least, I view Free Drop Billy as a key player to finish in the
exacta, and if Good Magic does indeed need a race off the layoff, I think Free
Drop Billy can post a mild upset. At anywhere near his morning line odds of
9-2, I'm taking Free Drop Billy to win.
In my opinion, the other Fountain of Youth contenders
would all need to step up to contend against the Good Magic and Free Drop Billy.
Strike Power is among the most logical
contenders after breaking his maiden at Gulfstream with a 102 Beyer and
following up with a clear win in Gulfstream's seven-furlong Swale Stakes (gr.
III), but his pedigree is geared toward sprinting and he could face pace
pressure from Machismo and Promises Fulfilled, two quick colts
that seem likely to gun from the gate after drawing posts nine and ten,
Speaking of Machismo, he's run twice at Gulfstream this
winter, finishing third behind the well-regarded Magnum Moon in a six-furlong
maiden special weight before stretching out a half-furlong in distance and
crushing a similar race by 11 ½ lengths. Of the three expected pacesetters, my
preference is for Machismo, who is bred to stretch out at least this far and
gets into the race carrying 116 pounds, six less than Good Magic, Free Drop
Billy, and Strike Power. I suspect that Machismo will get overlooked in the wagering
since he's running beyond 6 ½ furlongs for the first time, but I view him as
the main danger on the front end and believe he has a big chance to finish in
the exotics at around 15-1.
Another longshot candidate is Gotta Go, who defeated a quality field that included Bravazo while
winning the one-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last fall. His lone
try around two turns yielded a thirteenth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey
Club Stakes (gr. II), but nothing went right for Gotta Go that day as he was
put in tight quarters early on, subsequently found himself racing close to the
pace (a complete departure from his usual late-running style), and had to check
hard while losing ground around the far turn. He was essentially eased at that
point, but came back with a strong effort in the Swale Stakes last month, in
which he rallied from behind a modest pace to finish second behind Strike
Power. I don't think it's out of the question that we could see Gotta Go take
another step forward and finish in the superfecta at a bit of a price this
Also of some interest to me is Storm Runner, who--like Free Drop Billy--is trained by Dale Romans.
The son of Get Stormy is bred to be a turf horse but has actually compiled a
better record on dirt, winning two of his three starts over the surface and
defeating the well-regarded Mississippi in an 8.5-furlong allowance optional
claiming race over this track last month. Storm Runner has yet to run
particularly fast in terms of Beyer speed figures, but he's posted a couple of sharp
workouts since his last race, including five furlongs in :59 flat on February
24th. He's fairly versatile in terms of running style and could find
himself stalking the pace early on in the Fountain of Youth, an ideal position
from which to seek a top-four finish.
So to condense this into something shorter, I'm taking a
chance with Free Drop Billy to upset
Good Magic, while Machismo, Gotta Go, and Storm Runner
are the three colts that interest me most to round out the trifecta and
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Fountain of
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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 www.theturfboard.com.