By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
No matter how you slice it,
Saturday's $400,000 Fountain of Youth
Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park figures to be a crazy race.
As a Road to the Kentucky
Derby prep event, the Fountain of Youth offers 50 Kentucky Derby qualification
points to the winner. This lofty prize—coupled with the sizable purse—has
attracted a dozen promising 3-year-olds to the entry box, a significantly
larger field than originally expected.
The size of the field could
come into play since the Fountain of Youth is held over 1 1/16 miles. This
means there's a very short run to the first turn, and the race will conclude at
the sixteenth pole, setting up an abbreviated run down the homestretch.
The battle for early
position could be chaotic since the Fountain of Youth is packed with speed
horses. #1 Candy Tycoon, a
gate-to-wire maiden winner over this track and distance on Jan. 25, figures to
be hard-urged to secure position while breaking from the rail. Similarly, #9 Liam's Lucky Charm, #10 Shotski, and #11 Ete Indien all prefer to race on the lead and will have to use
their speed early to avoid racing wide into the first turn.
Such a scenario could
potentially play to the strengths of #5
Dennis' Moment. Trained by Dale Romans, Dennis' Moment showed a couple of different
running styles during his juvenile campaign, a versatile nature that could come
in handy on Saturday. In a 7-furlong maiden special weight at Ellis Park last
summer, Dennis' Moment led all the way to win by 19 1/4 lengths, earning an
impressive 97 Beyer speed figure. He subsequently demonstrated he can rate off
the pace by rallying from 3 ½ lengths behind to win the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at
Churchill Downs in easy fashion.
But Dennis' Moment hasn't
run since the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), in which he stumbled badly at
the start and trailed throughout. He'll be returning from a four-month layoff
in the Fountain of Youth, and generally speaking Romans' best juveniles tend to
need a race before returning to peak form as 3-year-olds. Dullahan and Brody's
Cause, both Breeders' Futurity (G1) winners who hit the board in the Breeders'
Cup Juvenile, were beaten in their 3-year-old bows before rebounding to win the
Blue Grass Stakes (G1) and compete in the Kentucky Derby. Paddy O'Prado, a
graded stakes-placed juvenile, lost a maiden race in his sophomore debut before
nabbing the Palm Beach Stakes (G3) and finishing third in the Kentucky Derby.
There are other concerns as
well. The quality of competition Dennis' Moment defeated last year has been
called into question; troubled Iroquois runner-up Scabbard has failed to crack
the trifecta in three subsequent Derby preps, and third-place finisher Lebda
had to take a couple steps down the class ladder before returning to the
winner's circle. Also, Dennis' Moment's regular rider Jose Ortiz is out with an
injury, so the son of Tiznow will be ridden instead by California-based Flavien
Prat for the first time on Saturday. Prat is a top jockey in his own right, but
he rarely rides at Gulfstream (he's 1-for-15 here since 2015) and doesn't have
the same established familiarity with Dennis' Moment.
In short, I have enough
questions about Dennis' Moment to feel he's vulnerable off the layoff. Anything
could happen in this large field, and there's no guarantee Dennis' Moment will
take a step forward off his juvenile form. As the 2-1 morning line favorite,
I'm tempted to exclude him from exotic wagers like the trifecta and try to cash
a big ticket with horses offering better value.
One such runner is the
above-mentioned #11 Ete Indien.
While this son of Summer Front hasn't received a ton of attention on the Derby
trail, he's shown strong form on dirt at Gulfstream this winter, easily winning
a 1-mile allowance race before battling to second place in the 1 1/16-mile Holy
Bull (G3). The latter effort was especially eye-catching since Ete Indien was
beaten only by early Derby favorite Tiz the Law while pulling 11 ½ lengths
clear of the third-place finisher.
But Ete Indien has drawn
very wide and figures to hook up in a pace duel with a few key rivals. #12 Chance It—a three-time Gulfstream
stakes winner conditioned by hot trainer Saffie Joseph—would be an appealing alternative
except that he's drawn widest of all. Chance It does have tactical speed, and
he's versatile enough to settle off the pace, so chances are he'll tuck in
behind the leaders early on. But he might still get caught four or five wide in
the mad rush to the first turn.
That's why I'm going to
focus my attention on #6 As Seen On Tv.
A stoutly-bred son of Lookin At Lucky out of a Pulpit mare, As Seen On Tv is
bred to thrive running long, so it was noteworthy to see him perform well while
sprinting as a juvenile. A debut winner at Monmouth Park, As Seen On Tv
finished second behind the speedy Meru in the 6-furlong Smoke Glacken Stakes
before battling to a fast win in the 6 ½-furlong Juvenile Sprint Stakes at
Gulfstream Park West.
As Seen On Tv most recently
squared off against Chance It in the 1-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 4 at
Gulfstream, and the result was an exciting showdown. After tracking fast
fractions while racing on the outside, As Seen On Tv raced to the front in the
homestretch, but ultimately lost a prolonged stretch battle against the
ground-saving Chance It, who rallied from farther behind the quick pace to win
by a head.
Taking their respective
trips into account, I believe As Seen On Tv ran the better race, and the
strength of his performance was reiterated when third-place finisher Sole
Volante returned to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3). As Seen On Tv will
stretch out around two turns for the first time on Saturday, and I'm optimistic
the change in configuration will bring his stamina into play and help him
deliver a career-best performance. Gulfstream regular Paco Lopez retains the
mount, and drawing post six should allow As Seen On Tv to work out a perfect
trip settling behind the leaders without falling too far off the pace. From
there, he can pounce in the short homestretch and deliver an upset victory.
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, videographer, voice actor, 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.