All eyes will be focused on South Florida this Saturday as top-class stakes action fills the card at Gulfstream Park, including six graded events on a 13-race program. A compact but talented group of six sophomore colts eyeing a date with destiny under the famed Twin Spires of Churchill Downs in 10 weeks will take a dip in the 24th running of the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) in the feature of the day, while seven of their female counterparts dream of May lilies in the undercard feature, the 32nd running of the Fasig-Tipton Davona Dale Stakes (GII).
Expect a gorgeous day in South Florida on Saturday with mostly sunny conditions and a high in the mid-70s. Few will be complaining about the fast and firm conditions in Hallandale.
This year’s Fountain of Youth, the second-to-last stop on Florida’s road to the Kentucky Derby (GI) and the last main prep for the April 2 Florida Derby (GI), is shaping up to be something of a barn burner despite its compact size, as top-class sophomores from all levels looking for valuable Derby points are expected to line up for the 1 1/16-mile main-track test. Proven top-class stakes runners, impressive allowance winners and horses stretching out in distance for the first time have tossed their hats into the ring with their eyes on the ultimate Louisville prize.
Five Fountain of Youth winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby —Tim Tam (1958), Kauai King (1966), Spectacular Bid (1979), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Orb (2013). Five others finished second or third in the Fountain of Youth before wearing the famed garland of roses — Iron Liege (1957), Pleasant Colony (1981), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990) and Go for Gin (1994).
All focus in the East has been set on the regally-bred Mohaymen — with good reason after what can only be considered a romp in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) in his last race a month ago. It’s virtually impossible to ignore a $2.2 million horse with his pedigree (by top sire Tapit out of the grade 2 winner Justwhistledixie) when analyzing Derby prospects in general, but combine that with his perfect race record (including three graded stakes in New York and Florida) and running style (just-off-the-pace, strong middle-move, tenacious finish kick) and it’s easy to see why he has made the top of many of the experts’ Derby contender lists.
The good news is that Moyhaymen seemingly has retained his fitness and weight since his last start, which is a strong sign for the colt, who worked a nice half-mile at his winter base of Palm Meadows north of Miami in :49 3/5 last Friday for seasoned trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Despite high-profile wins around the globe, the veteran conditioner is still searching for his first win in the Derby, though he came close with Closing Argument, a strong second to Giacomo in 2005. And as a former assistant to the Hall of Famer and four-time Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, McLaughlin knows what it takes to prep a winner for the biggest horse race under the famed Twin Spires in May.
The flashy gray colt got an ideal draw on the far outside and if he gets to his prime spot just off the pace in the early running under regular jockey Junior Alvarado, he’s going to be worth his chalky post-time odds against what many consider to be the toughest competition of his career so far. He seems to have everything going right to remain undefeated and to retain his top spot on the Derby probables list.
Lightly raced Zulu makes his stakes debut off a pair of impressive victories in maiden and allowance company by a combined 9 1/4 lengths and is stretching out to a two-turn distance for the first time, though he carries a nice distance pedigree being a son of Bernardini and out of a Summer Squall mare. He also carries some high-profile connections with trainer Todd Pletcher and co-owners Stonestreet Stable, Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor, as well as impressive morning workouts at his Palm Beach Downs base. It will be his acid test for sure, but he’s already shown his professionalism and could be primed for an upset under Hall of Famer John Velazquez if the favorite falters.
Grade 2-winning sprinter Awesome Banner stretches out for the first time and is one of two from the barn of trainer Stanley Gold. He has never lost a race and will most likely be seen out on the front end early, setting the pace with Jose Caraballo aboard and hoping to hold off the late charge from the favorites stalking him early.
Awesome Speed, trained by Alan Goldberg and ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., breaks from post position four off of three straight victories, including his last two in listed stakes company, and will also be part of the early pace. He’s won his only start at Gulfstream Park in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes last out, so he’s already shown an affinity for the main track, which can only help his chances for a larger piece of the pie.
Post time for the Fountain of Youth has been set for 5:30 p.m. and will go as the day’s 12th.
The one-mile Davona Dale is one of South Florida’s premiere events for 3-year-old fillies and was named for Calumet Farm’s Hall of Fame champion homebred, who remains the only filly in history to win both the original national Triple Tiara (Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks ) and the New York Triple Tiara (Acorn Stakes, Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks) in the late 1970s.
Forward Gal Stakes (GIII) winner Cathryn Sophia is back and is the filly to beat. Undefeated in three career starts by a combined 33 1/2 lengths, including her first two efforts by double digits, she’ll be ridden for the first time by Eclipse Award-winner Javier Castellano, subbing for injured regular pilot Joel Rosario. The talented Maryland-bred daughter of Street Boss will be trying two turns for the first time, but if her record is any indication of how she’ll handle the added distance then she should have little issue. Proven both as a pacesetter and an off-the-pace type, she’s been expertly handled by trainer John Servis and will be heavily bet, but also difficult to beat.
Though Lewis Bay (a daughter of top stallion Bernardini) makes her first start in 2016 for trainer Chad Brown, she is a last-out winner at nine furlongs in Aqueduct’s Demoiselle Stakes (GIII) and has been training extremely well at her winter base of Palm Meadows judging by her workout pattern this year. Though a tough graded stakes, this race is an ideal spot for this filly for her return after the three-month break and we already know she can handle the two turns.
Thrilled was second last out to Lewis Bay in the Demoiselle and draws the rail. She hasn’t won since breaking her maiden in August at Saratoga, but has top trainer Todd Pletcher tightening the girth and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons and may offer value, especially considering she’ll be sporting blinkers for the first time.
Two other notable runners are last-out winner R Girls a Charmer and the undefeated Florida-based Dearest. Post time for the one-mile event, carded as the 5th of the day, is 1:56 pm EST.
Crack sprinters will duke it out over 6 1/2 furlongs in the day’s first stakes, the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint (GIII), which has carded as the 4th. X Y Jet will be tough to beat in this eight-runner field off four consecutive victories, including his last four by open lengths. While six furlongs is more to this gelding’s liking, the extra sixteenth of a mile shouldn’t be of much concern after he breaks well and sets sail for his familiar spot setting all the pace on the front end. Post time will be 1:27 p.m. EST.
Eight sophomore fillies take to the turf in the afternoon’s sixth event, the Herecomesthebride Stakes (GIIIT), led by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GIT) winner Catch a Glimpse. Though she hasn’t raced since her impressive win on Racing’s Championship Day last year, she has trained well all winter for trainer Mark Casse and has never lost since switching to the grass after her dismal debut on a sloppy main track at Saratoga last July. Florent Geroux is back in the saddle for the 1 1/16-mile test, which is set to leave the gate at 2:24 p.m. EST.
Multiple graded stakes winner Heart to Heart faces off against eight other turf specialists in the day’s 8th on the card, the $150,000 Canadian Turf Stakes (GIIIT). Though his outside post position (eight) isn’t ideal for his typical front-running style, the talented son of English Channel is in capable hands under jockey Julien Leparoux while looking for his third straight graded stakes score. Post time for the one-mile event will be at 3:25 p.m. EST.
A full field of 3-year-olds with a preference for the lawn is expected to head to the gate in the day’s 11th, the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (GIIIT). Breaking from the far outside in post 13 is J R’s Holiday, a son of Harlan’s Holiday carrying a two-race win skein into this one-mile test, including the Kitten’s Joy stakes over the Gulfstream Park turf last out. The post shouldn’t be much of an issue for the colt, who prefers to establish early position well of the pace and close strong in the lane. The Palm Beach is the race immediately preceding the feature and will leave the gate at 4:58 p.m. EST.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1994 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.