Now it gets interesting as major prep races lie ahead for Kentucky Derby
By Dick Powell
Hard to believe that the Kentucky Derby (G1) will be run in only nine weeks. The prep season has been somewhat quiet with many trainers choosing only two races to get ready but things begin to heat up this Saturday and we should have a major Derby prep race for the next six weeks.
Gulfstream Park will host the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on Saturday at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. It attracted 11 sophomore males and trips will be very important.
The hot favorite will be IRISH WAR CRY (Curlin) who is now undefeated in three starts. He was a game winner going seven furlongs at Laurel second time out in late December and then shipped to Florida to beat a good field in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at the same distance.
That win came with first-time Lasix and even though it turns out that heavily-favored CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pioneerof the Nile) had a legitimate excuse for a poor performance, Irish War Cry looked great. Being by CURLIN (Smart Strike), added distance and maturity will only improve him.
When you have a stoutly-bred colt with terrific early speed, it can be a potent combination. Irish War Cry had the lead all to himself while Classic Empire raced three wide and GUNNEVERA (Dialed In) had traffic problems approaching the top of the stretch.
It all added up to a tour-de-force 3 ¾-length victory for the Graham Motion trainee and a career-best BRIS Speed rating of 102. Instead of waiting for the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1st, Motion decided to keep racing instead of backing off. The fear is that if he passed on the Fountain of Youth with an eight-week rest until the Florida Derby and if bad weather hits, he would be running out of time and options.
So, Motion brings him back four weeks later at the same distance but a couple of things are different. First, Irish War Cry picks up two pounds. Second, he draws post eight so he will have to use more energy going into the first turn.
Knowing there are bigger fish to fry, I am not saying that Motion is going to train through the race but all signs point toward GUNNEVERA (Dialed In) turning the tables. Off a brilliant win in the Delta Jackpot (G3) last November, Gunnevera came into the Holy Bull off a decent rest. From post 1, he sat behind the leaders but when the running got serious on the far turn, Javier Castellano had to steady and then change directions to the outside.
Instead of receiving a clean trip along the inside, Gunnevera wound up tapping on the brakes. His late rally was never going to threaten the winner but he should be much improved Saturday.
In the Saratoga Special (G2) and Delta Jackpot, Gunnevera showed that he can pass horses willingly. He draws inside with Castellano back aboard and even though the chances are that he will get shuffled back into traffic, the colt’s acceleration should be enough to make up ground once he finds clear sailing. Won’t be the biggest upset (3-1 in Holy Bull) but we’ll take him.
In New York, the Gotham Stakes (G3) will be run on Saturday under the same conditions as the Fountain of Youth. I would love to find a way to beat EL AREEB (Exchange Rate) but just can’t do it. He has won four straight convincingly, the last two coming on the Aqueduct inner dirt track against similar stakes company.
El Areeb has a turn of foot against this level of competition that is devastating. We are only asking him to win the Gotham, not the “Run for the Roses” Saturday and will have to find a way to make money with him.
Todd Pletcher sends an interesting colt up from Florida that could make some noise; either on Saturday or down the road. ACTION EVERYDAY (The Factor) cost $400K as a 2YO-in-training last May but did not make his career debut until December 23 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Action Everyday romped by four lengths that day going seven furlongs in good time and Pletcher sent him back to Tampa for an easy one going two turns last out, with the colt jogging home as the 3-to-10 favorite in an entry-level allowance. Instead of staying there and pointing for the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on March 11, Pletcher ships him north to take on Grade 3 stakes foes.
What makes him interesting to me is Action Everyday adds blinkers and already has good early speed so post 10 may not be the kiss of death for him. He’s put in three solid workouts at Pletcher’s Florida base – Palm Beach Downs – since his last race.
And, the dark bay has a fascinating pedigree. Action Everyday is from the first crop of THE FACTOR (War Front), who is known as being one of, if not, the fastest six-furlong maiden winner of all time. But, The Factor won his two-turn debut in the Rebel Stakes (G2) going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park over Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner CALEB’S POSSE and ARCHARCHARCH (Arch), who came back to win the Arkansas Derby (G1) next time out.
Action Everyday is a half-brother to multiple stakes winner GRACER (Exchange Rate), who won four of six career starts, her last race being a 10-length victory in the Dearly Precious Stakes over this same inner dirt track.