Will Hidden Scroll Win the Fountain of Youth?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

I can certainly understand why some handicappers are reluctant to play #7 Hidden Scroll in Saturday's $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose him, with perhaps the biggest being his 9-5 morning line odds. That's a pretty short price for a horse with just one start under his belt, especially since that one start came over a sloppy, sealed, speed-favoring racetrack that played in favor of his front-running style. Most handicapping advice would discourage us from playing such a colt at any price in any race; since Hidden Scroll is also taking a big jump up in class and stretching out around two turns for the first time, surely we should turn around and run in the opposite direction, right?

I would answer "yes," except for that fact that Hidden Scroll obliterated that maiden race with such complete and overwhelming authority that I'm left wondering if we could be looking at a star in the making.

Hidden Scroll was the master of his debut from the moment he left the starting gate. Breaking from the rail, he dueled for the early lead through an opening quarter-mile in :22.53, easily the most unremarkable fraction of the race. He then grew his lead to a length through a half-mile in :44.73, extended it to 6 ½ lengths through six furlongs in 1:09.43, powered 11 lengths clear through seven furlongs in 1:21.95, and ultimately cruised home in front by 14 lengths while stopping the clock in 1:34.82 for a mile.

Speed figures universally applauded Hidden Scroll's effort; most notably, he received a 104 Beyer, the highest number assigned to any member of the 2016 foal crop so far. Yes, he had a beneficial trip over a speed-favoring track, but I think that was offset to a degree by the very fast fractions he set. Later on the card, the accomplished six-year-old Aztec Sense (unbeaten in nine starts since the beginning of 2018) required 1:36.22 seconds to win the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (gr. III) off fractions of :23.10, :45.10, 1:09.88, and 1:22.63.

Even more stunning was the manner in which Hidden Scroll prevailed. He seemingly never hit his highest gear, with jockey Joel Rosario sitting virtually motionless for most of the race while letting Hidden Scroll pull away under his own power. Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bill Mott (trainer of Hidden Scroll), evidently wasn't surprised by the colt's performance. After the race, he posted a photo of Hidden Scroll on Twitter with the caption "Hidden Scroll... we knew."

Hidden Scroll might have been a little green early in the homestretch, carrying his head to the right and drifting out a bit while changing leads, but that's not uncommon for a first-time starter. It's clear that he possesses a world of talent, and while I'll concede that 9-5 is not an appealing price, I don't think it's far from being fair value either.

After all, there are only two proven graded stakes winners in the Fountain of Youth field, and both are returning from winter layoffs. #5 Vekoma beat up on quality rivals like Epic Dreamer, Mihos, Motagally, Network Effect, and Call Paul last year and was a clear winner of the one-mile Nashua Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, in which he earned a 97 Beyer. The son of Candy Ride has done nothing wrong and will race with Lasix for the first time on Saturday, but his work tab this winter has been a little inconsistent and this race looks like more of a starting point for the season than a major target in and of itself.

Likewise, #6 Signalman doesn't figure to be in peak form for the Fountain of Youth since he's already thoroughly established his class and is using this race as one of two preps for the Kentucky Derby. A late-running son of General Quarters, Signalman has astonished me with his professionalism, his willingness to rally through small openings, and his ability to make multiple moves during a race. Perhaps the only chink in his armor is that he seems to lose focus when he strikes the front and does seem more comfortable racing in the pack, which has made him something of a "rally and pick up the pieces" type so far in his career. That style might not be well-suited to Gulfstream Park, especially in a race like the Fountain of Youth, which will end at the sixteenth pole.

It's also worth noting that Vekoma and Signalman will be carrying top weight of 122 pounds on Saturday, six more than Hidden Scroll. It might not seem like a huge amount, but that difference can be noteworthy in Derby prep races, where lightly-raced runners with weight allowances are often just as fast or faster than their stakes-winning rivals.

Two Fountain of Youth entrants are exiting the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) over this same track and distance one month ago: runner-up #9 Everfast and fourth-place finisher #2 Epic Dreamer. The Holy Bull was a somewhat slow race that fell apart after a testing early pace, so of the pair I prefer the chances of Epic Creamer, who carved out the fractions and held on surprisingly well to be beaten just 2 ¼ lengths.

#1 Code of Honor, runner-up in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) last year, disappointed when fading to fourth in the January 5th Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park, but he'd missed a couple of scheduled starts prior to the Mucho Macho Man and didn't bring much of a work tab into the race, so it's understandable why he came up short. His workouts since then have been sharper and longer on the whole, so there's a chance we'll see him take a step forward this time. I'm not sure I'd want to bet on that notion, but if you liked Code of Honor prior to the Mucho Macho Man, I see no reason to jump off the bandwagon just yet.

#4 Bourbon War had no trouble defeating a decent field (which included Everfast) in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream in January, rallying steadily from seventh place to seize command in the homestretch and win by 2 ¼ lengths. Previously, the son of Tapit had finished a distant fourth in a slow-paced renewal of the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct. Distance doesn't seem to be an issue, and there should be enough early speed here to set up his late run. With Beyer speed figures floating consistently in the 83-89 range so far, he's already as fast or faster than the majority of his Fountain of Youth rivals and should contend for a spot in the exotics and maybe even for the victory.

A wildcard in the field is #8 Global Campaign, a beautifully-bred son of Curlin out of an A.P. Indy mare. He's gone 2-for-2 at Gulfstream this winter, most recently beating the Grade 1-placed Standard Deviation in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race, but I feel like he received perfect trips tracking modest fractions in both races. Furthermore, in his allowance win, he looked poised to win by the length of the stretch when turning for home, but didn't really respond to urging and lost ground through the home straight compared to Standard Deviation, who was all-out on the far turn but kept plugging away to finish just 2 ¼ lengths behind Global Campaign at the wire.

So when it's all said and done, I'm siding with Hidden Scroll, and I'm excited to see what he can offer on Saturday. If he wins impressively once again, the sky could be the limit for this talented colt.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Fountain of Youth?


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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.

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