Six things to know for Fountain of Youth

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

March 3rd, 2017

Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) is the middle leg of Gulfstream Park’s graded preps on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), which begins with the February 4 Holy Bull (G2) and culminates in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 1.

The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth offers Kentucky Derby points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers – five times as much as the Holy Bull. As that implies, the Derby trail is heating up, and presenting more challenges to the winners of the earlier preps.

Here are my six things to know about the Fountain of Youth:

1. Unbeaten Irish War Cry was convincing in the Holy Bull, but this race figures to unfold very differently. Last time, the Graham Motion trainee controlled the pace and kicked clear, leaving champion Classic Empire toiling well back in third. With that strong performance over this same track and trip, Irish War Cry deserves 5-2 morning-line favoritism here.

Yet Irish War Cry is unlikely to enjoy as straightforward a passage through the Fountain of Youth. Drawn a little wider (in post 8 of 11), he’s also in between two more vigorous pace factors in Three Rules (post 7) and Aqueduct refugee Takaful (post 10). Lookin for Eight would also be likely to gun it from post 11, unless he scratches (see number 6).

So Irish War Cry will probably have to play a different tactical card. The Curlin colt is capable of that, having won his Laurel maiden with an eye-catching rally, but he’s been on the engine in his last two. If Irish War Cry relaxes early as in his works, it will serve him better.

2. Gunnevera would have finished closer to Irish War Cry if he hadn’t had trouble in the Holy Bull. Just as the son of Dialed In was gaining on the rail on the far turn, he had to tap on the brakes behind the sputtering Talk Logistics. Gunnevera switched to the outside and got going again, but the damage was done as Irish War Cry was long gone by 3 3/4 lengths.

Gunnevera stands to get a better trip in the Fountain of Youth, with a livelier pace scenario setting it up for his closing style. Trained by Antonio Sano (an outstanding horseman in his native Venezuela before his stateside success), Gunnevera has always run well for fellow Venezuelan Javier Castellano. Indeed, Castellano guided him to his biggest wins in the Saratoga Special (G2) and Delta Downs Jackpot (G3), and the Holy Bull was their first loss together.

The one wrinkle for Gunnevera is that, like the Holy Bull, the Fountain of Youth has a shorter stretch run. The 1 1/16-mile test ends at the first finish line, making it tougher for confirmed closers to get there in time.

3. Practical Joke and Three Rules, both well beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), have something to prove in the Fountain of Youth. Their situations aren’t exactly analogous, but each must step up to boost his stock as a potential Derby horse.

There’s no doubt about Practical Joke’s talent, after his victories in such historic juvenile contests as the Hopeful (G1) and Champagne (G1). But both came around one turn, and his only two-turn attempt resulted in a third, beaten nearly eight lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Chad Brown trainee had a rough trip at Santa Anita that day, so he warrants another crack at the distance. Still, the visual impression of Classic Empire and Not This Time drawing away from him down the stretch is tough to ignore. Practical Joke’s class can carry him versus lesser, and he’s plenty good enough to place even if this does stretch his stamina. But in a major Derby prep, he’ll need to up his game to prevail.

Three Rules is in a slightly different position, as he’s already won at this trip. But that came against state-breds when he completed his conquest of the Florida Sire Stakes in the In Reality. A fading sixth in his first serious class test in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he cut back in trip for the February 4 Swale (G2) and finished a solid second. That effort suggests he may be better suited to one-turn races, at least in this kind of company, but we’ll only know for sure in the Fountain of Youth.

4. Made You Look is fascinating in his dirt experiment for Todd Pletcher. After all, there’s precedent for a Pletcher horse to start out on turf before impressing on the Derby trail – Eskendereya (2010).

Having lobbed that incendiary comparison, I hasten to add that the parallel doesn’t quite work. Eskendereya raced only once on turf (and lost) before blowing apart the off-the-turf Pilgrim, and he stayed on dirt thereafter. Made You Look has an extensive resume on turf, as the winner of the With Anticipation (G2) at Saratoga and the Dania Beach (G3) on the Gulfstream course, before a troubled third in the Kitten’s Joy on the Holy Bull undercard. The Fountain of Youth isn’t just a dirt debut; it’s a trial by fire.

But Made You Look has the pedigree to adapt. By More Than Ready, who’s a terrific international sire but also capable of getting a top dirt performer like Verrazano, Made You Look gets serious dirt reinforcements on his dam’s side. He’s out of Night and Day, a daughter of Unbridled’s Song and Hall of Famer/blue hen Serena’s Song. And Made You Look is at least breezing up to that pedigree in the mornings at Palm Beach Downs, tying for the bullet half-mile in :47.40 last Sunday. If he’s as effective on dirt, Made You Look can get involved in the finish.

5. Takaful hopes that a change of venue will provide a change of fortune. The Shadwell homebred was a scintillating debut winner at Belmont Park last October, but went the wrong way when stretching out at Aqueduct. Only third after dictating the pace as the 4-5 favorite in the Remsen (G2), he was even-money to regroup in the Jerome (G3), but flopped in the mud when last to El Areeb. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin whisked him back to Palm Meadows, where the Bernardini colt has been training forwardly.

Aside from the two-turn, and class test, that Takaful has yet to pass, he’s also got the Remsen millstone around his neck. Remsen winner Mo Town was the latest alumnus to disappoint in last Saturday’s Risen Star (G2). It would be very funny – read maddening – to form experts if Takaful comes to the Remsen’s rescue, in of all places, the Fountain of Youth.

6. Beasley is reportedly expected to scratch in favor of the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman also reported the same possible itinerary for Lookin for Eight. Not only would they have served as additional pace factors in the Fountain of Youth, but both would give a line on Pletcher’s Florida Derby candidate Battalion Runner, who’d aired over Lookin for Eight in a December 31 maiden, but had to work a lot harder to put away the stubborn Beasley in a February 3 allowance.

Check out the free Fountain of Youth PPs, courtesy of Brisnet, and good luck!

Irish War Cry photo courtesy Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photography.