A deep field, a fast pace, and a wild finish combined to make Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park one of the most interesting races so far on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Code of Honor
, runner-up in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) last fall, was the star of the show, rebounding to his best form to score a popular victory with a respectable 95 Beyer speed figure. Now that we’re a day removed from the race and the dust has settled, here are my five main takeaways from the Fountain of Youth:
The Pace Was Too Fast
The pace was perhaps the most significant factor affecting the outcome of the Fountain of Youth. Race favorite Hidden Scroll
endured a troubled start, then raced up to challenge the 132-1 sprinter Gladiator King
for early supremacy. Hidden Scroll won the battle, but posted fractions of :22.80 and :45.69 to do so. Following six furlongs in 1:10.42, he was running out of steam, and the race fell apart late with a fourth quarter-mile in :26.42 and a final sixteenth in :07.01.
This fast early/slow late race shape compromised the pacesetters while giving an advantage to late runners. Under the circumstances, I was impressed that Hidden Scroll held on to finish fourth, beaten just three lengths at the wire. He might yet have a bright future if allowed to ration his speed more efficiently.
Shug McGaughey is a Hall of Famer for a Reason
A lot of folks were giving up on Code of Honor
after he finished fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream two months ago, and even McGaughey seemed uncertain how to proceed as first. But the Hall of Fame trainer regrouped, stepped up Code of Honor’s training regimen, and was rewarded when the son of Noble Mission parlayed a ground-saving trip from mid-pack into a much-improved (and victorious) performance.
Bourbon War’s Big Finish: Impressive or an Illusion?
The well-regarded allowance winner Bourbon War
was gaining ground rapidly at the finish of the Fountain of Youth, closing 4 ¼ lengths in the final furlong to fall less than a length short of catching Code of Honor. Visually, it was eye-catching, but was his rally really as impressive as it looked? The fast early pace and slow finishing fractions played strongly in favor of Bourbon War, who trailed the field by ten lengths for the first half-mile. I’m inclined to believe that he was the main beneficiary of how the race unfolded, and is unlikely to improve without a similar setup next time out.
Holy Bull Form Takes a Hit
and Epic Dreamer
were two of the main players in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream last month, finishing second and fourth in another fast early/slow late race
. But the Holy Bull came back slow from a Beyer speed figure perspective, and the Fountain of Youth performances from Everfast and Epic Dreamer (they finished eighth and ninth, beaten nearly 20 lengths apiece) is a blow to the form of the Holy Bull.
Don’t Count Out Signalman Just Yet
The Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) winner Signalman
ran evenly in the Fountain of Youth, but never challenged while finishing seventh, beaten seven lengths. At first glance, it looks like a disappointing performance, but keep in mind Signalman brought a fairly light work tab into the Fountain of Youth, and from all appearances this race was a prep in the truest sense, one of just two races that he’ll contest prior to the Kentucky Derby. There was also no guarantee that Signalman would relish Gulfstream Park, considering how different Gulfstream can play compared to the tracks in Kentucky where Signalman has thrived. I suspect we’ll see a big rebound from Signalman if he returns to Kentucky for the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland next month.
What are your takeaways from the Fountain of Youth?