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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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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.