Analyzing the San Felipe and Fountain of Youth

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

The first week of March is a giant one on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Four U.S. prep races are on the agenda, along with a European Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier in Ireland.

Two of the most important events are the San Felipe S. (G2) at Santa Anita and the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park. Each has produced 13 Kentucky Derby (G1) winners through the years, ranking them among the most important and productive Derby preps.

Let's take a quick look at both races:

San Felipe S. (G2)

Contested over 1 1/16 miles, the 2023 San Felipe has drawn a deep and competitive field. There are many viable win contenders, and splitting them is bound to be difficult.

Ultimately, I have to side with #2 National Treasure. The well-bred son of Quality Road has knocked heads with tough competition in all four of his starts and just needs a little luck to secure his first stakes win.

National Treasure debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar last summer and led all the way to score by 1 1/2 lengths. Among his beaten rivals was fellow San Felipe entrant #3 Practical Move, future winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).

Off this impressive maiden victory, National Treasure jumped up in class and distance for the American Pharoah (G1) and finished second behind Del Mar Futurity (G1) winner Cave Rock. National Treasure ran well in defeat, pulling 3 1/2 lengths clear of the rest of the field, which included San Felipe entrants #7 Hejazi and #10 Skinner.

National Treasure wrapped up his two-year-old season with a solid third-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), beaten only by Cave Rock and three-time Grade 1 winner Forte while finishing ahead of Champagne (G1) winner Blazing Sevens and Iroquois (G3) hero Curly Jack.

Two months ago, National Treasure kicked off his sophomore campaign with a deceptively strong effort in the one-mile Sham S. (G3) at Santa Anita. National Treasure spent much of the race boxed in behind rivals and got out too late to catch up; I believe he would have won with an unencumbered trip. But even with his trouble, National Treasure was beaten only a length by Reincarnate (subsequently third in the Grade 2 Rebel S.) and Newgate (next-out winner of the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis S.).

After three straight defeats, National Treasure isn't one of the most hyped horses on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. But his consistently strong performances against tough competition stamp him as the horse to beat in the San Felipe.

For the minor awards, I would like to highlight Skinner as a runner worth supporting. Third in the Del Mar Futurity and sixth in the American Pharoah as a juvenile, Skinner recently returned from a four-month layoff to trounce a one-mile maiden special weight at Santa Anita by 3 1/4 lengths. The son of Curlin reached the finish line in a quick 1:36.78 and is bred to improve with maturity for trainer John Shirreffs, so I'm optimistic Skinner has lots of upside.

Fountain of Youth S. (G2)

If I like National Treasure to win the San Felipe based off the elite competition he's faced, then I pretty much have to side with #4 Forte to win the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.

While heavy favorites don't have the best record of success in recent editions of the Fountain of Youth, Forte might be talented enough to shrug off that trend and prevail in his sophomore debut. The Todd Pletcher trainee boasts a near-perfect 4-for-5 record highlighted by consecutive victories in the Hopeful (G1), Breeders' Futurity (G1), and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) to wrap up his two-year-old season.

Along the way, Forte has beaten top-notch competition. Cave Rock, National Treasure, Blazing Sevens, Curly Jack, Instant Coffee, Red Route One... the list is impressive. And Forte's victories have been achieved in eye-catching style. In both the Breeders' Futurity and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he unleashed big rallies around the far turn before sustaining them down the homestretch to earn strong Beyer and Brisnet speed figures. His ability to accelerate around turns may come in handy in the Fountain of Youth, which features an abbreviated run down the homestretch.

I'll admit there's some risk in betting an accomplished juvenile at a short price in his first start off a layoff. But I believe Forte is a special colt who can handle the challenge and take home top honors.

Beyond Forte, I view #9 Cyclone Mischief (12-1) as a live longshot worth supporting. True, he completely misfired as the favorite in Gulfstream Holy Bull S. (G3) last month, finishing seventh by a wide margin behind the victorious #8 Rocket Can (8-1). But two starts back, Cyclone Mischief trounced Rocket Can by 5 3/4 lengths in a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream. A return to that level of form can put Cyclone Mischief in the hunt for a top-two finish in the Fountain of Youth.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in this week's Kentucky Derby preps?


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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.

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