Fellowship headed to Florida Derby, Awesome Banner returns to sprints

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TwinSpires Staff

March 17th, 2016

Edited Press Release

Gulfstream Park-based trainer Stanley Gold is sending his top three-year-olds in opposite directions, pointing Fellowship to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 2 while cutting fellow Jacks or Better Farm homebred Awesome Banner back to sprints.

Fellowship is coming off a pair of third-place finishes behind undefeated Mohaymen in both the January 30 Holy Bull (G2) and February 27 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream.

Winner of the In Reality division of the Florida Sire Stakes last fall, the Awesome of Course chestnut colt will be trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Florida Derby. The In Reality, Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth are all run at 1 1/16 miles.

“Fellowship is going to go in the Florida Derby for sure. He’s training good. He breezed in :47(.40 on March 11). We’ve got time for another work or two if we want,” Gold said.

“I’m looking forward to the race. The extra sixteenth of a mile is going to help him. He’ll tell me what he needs to do. I left leeway for him to work one or two more times and he probably will work again, maybe not twice, but it all depends on the weather, the horse, and how it’s going. But he’s right where he needs to be.”

The 65th running of the Florida Derby is shaping up to be a showdown between Mohaymen and Nyquist, the undefeated champion two-year-old male of 2015 based in California with trainer Doug O’Neill.

Fountain of Youth runner-up Zulu and Azar, a Grade 2 winner on turf, are also under consideration for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the past two runnings of the Florida Derby with Constitution in 2014 and Materiality last year.

“No one is expecting a large field so that doesn’t ever help a horse that’s coming off the pace,” Gold said. “It wasn’t a large field last time, either, so we’ll deal with it. That’s the way it is.”

Awesome Banner won each of his first three starts in impressive front-running fashion, setting Gulfstream’s 4 1/2-furlong track record (:51.07) in his unveiling last June. He opened his sophomore campaign winning the six-furlong Hutcheson (G3) on January 2 and followed up 28 days later with victory in the seven-furlong Swale (G2), earning a trip to the Fountain of Youth.

In the Fountain of Youth, Awesome Banner was hustled to the front after being bumped by Golden Ray out of the gate, led for a half-mile and faded to finish fifth. He returned two weeks later in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G2), where he rated off the pace and never got closer than 2 1/2 lengths before tiring to run eighth of nine.

“Awesome Banner came out fine. Some will go long and some won’t, and he’s shown us twice without an excuse he can’t go long so he won’t go long anymore,” Gold explained. “He came back good and went to the track (Tuesday) for the first time. It’s like he never ran. By the three-eighths pole he was done. I think the message is there: forget that dream.”

Gold mentioned the Summit of Speed in July at Gulfstream as well as the July 30 Amsterdam (G2) going six furlongs and August 27 King’s Bishop (G1) at seven furlongs, both taking place at Saratoga, as possible future spots.

“There will be other choices, but we’d be foolish to run him long again. We found out what we needed to find out,” he said. “The timing of things, we didn’t want to go out of town. We could have gone to New York and looked for a spot but we didn’t want to. We still wanted to see if he could go long so we tried him in the Tampa Bay Derby.

“He was excuse-free. He sat off the pace. We wanted him off the pace, we were on the outside, and that’s what he did. He sat off the pace and didn’t have any dirt in his face. He was free to go when he wanted and he was free to stop when he wanted and that’s exactly what he did. He’ll be a sprinter and hopefully as good as he was. I’m optimistic there.”

Fellowship photo courtesy of Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography
Awesome Banner photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography