Aiming for Upsets in the Fountain of Youth and Southwest

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

The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues on Saturday with a pair of major prep races at Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn.

Gulfstream's $300,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) is theoretically the most important of the pair, awarding 50 qualification points to the winner. But the $750,000 Southwest (G3) has attracted a stronger field, even though the winner will earn just 10 points.

Let's dig in and review both races:

Fountain of Youth (G2)

Held over 1 1/16 miles with an abbreviated run down the homestretch, the Fountain of Youth can be a challenging race to handicap. Over the last 20 years, just three favorites (15%) have visited the winner's circle, the most recent being Mohaymen in 2016.

But at least favorites have fared better than sprinters stretching out in distance. Since 1990, only one horse has prevailed in the Fountain of Youth while making his route debut. That one horse was future four-time Grade 1 winner Quality Road, whose victory in 2009 came on the one occasion in the last 68 years when the Fountain of Youth was contested as a one-turn mile.

Instead, proven route runners have thrived in the Fountain of Youth, particularly horses coming out of the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream. Three of the last five Fountain of Youth winners exited the track-and-distance prep, with Mohaymen sweeping both races.

So what conclusions can we draw from these statistics? For starters, we have to oppose #1 Drain the Clock (5-1), who enters off blowout victories in the Limehouse Stakes and Swale (G3) sprinting at Gulfstream. The son of Maclean's Music has an abundance of speed and figures to set the pace while breaking from the rail, but stretching out over 1 1/16 miles is a big question mark, especially against this caliber of competition.

#8 Greatest Honour (9-5) looks more reliable, even though history indicates favorites aren't the best bets in the Fountain of Youth. An improving son of Tapit, Greatest Honour has made steady progress under the care of Shug McGaughey, a two-time winner of the Fountain of Youth with Orb (2013) and Code of Honor (2019). In the Holy Bull, Greatest Honour unleashed an eye-catching rally to dominate his opposition by 5 3/4 lengths.

What makes Greatest Honour so dangerous is his ability to accelerate around turns. He's not a one-dimensional deep closer who charges from out of the clouds in the final furlong—he's tactical enough to advance around the far turn and reach contention by the top of the stretch. Indeed, by the time the Holy Bull field turned for home, Greatest Honour was already in command and pulling clear.

If there's one chink in Greatest Honour's armor, it's the fact the Gulfstream main track was a bit slow and tiring on Holy Bull day, giving an advantage to late runners. There wasn't a single gate-to-wire winner all afternoon, and detected a significant track bias in favor of late runners.

So why not stack all the historical data in our favor and support Holy Bull runner-up #7 Tarantino (8-1)? After coming within a nose of going unbeaten in three starts on turf, Tarantino fired off a big effort when transitioning to dirt for the Holy Bull. Dueling for the lead through splits of :23.28, :46.97, and 1:11.36 (challenging enough over the tiring track), Tarantino displayed tenacity to battle on and finish second, 3 3/4 lengths clear of third-place runner #3 Prime Factor (5-1).

A son of Pioneerof the Nile out of a Seeking the Gold mare, Tarantino is bred to improve with maturity. Drawing post seven sets the stage for a perfect trip stalking Drain the Clock. He's exiting the key prep race, he's proven running long, and he won't be favored in the betting. Call me crazy, but I believe Tarantino can turn the tables on Greatest Honour in the Fountain of Youth.

Southwest (G3)

Taken at face value, the results of the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) indicate we should favor #1 Essential Quality (3-2) over #4 Jackie's Warrior (8-5) in the Southwest. Whereas the stretch-running Essential Quality is undefeated in three starts, including back-to-back Grade 1 wins racing 1 1/16 miles, Jackie's Warrior faltered when making his two-turn debut in the Juvenile, weakening through the final furlong to finish fourth by 3 1/4 lengths.

But dig a little deeper, and you can make a strong case for Jackie's Warrior to reverse the outcome. The son of Maclean's Music is hardly a slouch; prior to the Juvenile, he'd rattled off front-running victories in the Saratoga Special (G2), Hopeful (G1), and Champagne (G1).

True, Jackie's Warrior weakened in the Juvenile. But he did so after enduring a challenging change in tactics, tracking fast fractions of :22.58 and :45.31 before advancing into the teeth of six furlongs in 1:10.48. Late runners swept four of the top five finishing positions in the Juvenile, so the fact Jackie's Warrior held on to finish only 3 1/4 lengths behind is significant. assigned the Juvenile a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 100 on their 1-to-100 scale, which indicates the Juvenile was as closer-friendly a race as you'll ever find.

The pace scenario should be very different in the Southwest. Just seven horses have been entered, and Jackie's Warrior looms as the only pure front-runner in the field, setting the stage for a return to front-running tactics. Jackie's Warrior has already run as fast or faster than Essential Quality on the Beyer and Brisnet speed figure scales, so if Jackie's Warrior shakes loose on an uncontested lead, he'll be tough to run down.

That's not to say we should underestimate Essential Quality. The Godolphin homebred has won with multiple running styles and is clearly a talented prospect. But nine of the last 10 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners were beaten in their sophomore debuts, and Essential Quality risks getting boxed in early on while breaking from the rail. As a result, I have to side with Jackie's Warrior to spring a (very) mild upset.

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


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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

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