By Margaret Ransom
Racing fans love a good rivalry, especially with geographic considerations. Affirmed vs. Alydar. Easy Goer vs. Sunday Silence. Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra. The best in the East vs. the best in the West. The list is long and storied.
So, on Saturday, in what originally could have been considered a slow simmering pot of East Coast vs. West Coast, early Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks competition quickly turned into to what can now only be considered a full-on boil-over of legitimate Left vs. Right Coast rivalries after the running of both the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) and Fasig-Tipton Davona Dale Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park.
In the Fountain of Youth, three undefeated colts from the East Coast went into the 1 1/16-mile test. When the dust settled, only one could remain that way and, as expected, it was the highly-regarded Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Mohaymen who silenced his few critics and doubters as ran his win skein to five with a 2 ¼-length score under little more than a vigorous hand ride from jockey Junior Alvarado.
Saturday’s victory set up what could be thoroughbred racing’s latest sophomore rivalry as West Coast-based champion Nyquist, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) winner and division leader for months, is expected to travel east for the April 2 Florida Derby (GI) in what is expected to be his final prep for the Run for the Roses.
And though always the cautious horseman — McLaughlin will take a few days to see how Mohaymen comes out of his most recent victory before committing to his next start — it appears that the stage has been set for a Nyquist-Mohaymen matchup.
“We’re going to take one race at a time and we are looking at the Florida Derby in five weeks,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a very talented horse and he keeps winning. We’re all happy. That’s all we can do.”
Unfortunately, impressive maiden and allowance winner Zulu suffered his first defeat in his third career start, but ran well to hold on to second, crossing the Fountain of Youth finish line another four lengths in front of Fellowship, who was third. Awesome Speed, the previously unbeaten Awesome Banner and Golden Ray rounded out the final order of finish.
As the overwhelming favorite at odds of 2-5, Mohaymen returned just $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10. Zulu returned $3.20 and $2.60 at odds of 4-1, capping off the $9.20 exacta. Fellowship, at more than 22-1, was good for $3.40. The $1 trifecta was worth $15.10.
The field of six broke cleanly from the gate, but just a few strides out both Awesome Speed and Awesome Banner, who were positioned just to the inside of the favorite, bumped hard together causing both to lose some action and, therefore, any chance of reaching their preferred spots on or just behind the early pace without rushing. Easily avoiding all of the chaos to his inside, Mohaymen was taken slightly back and slightly wide to settle in for the early going, content to sit off the pacesetters until it was time to make his move.
“It wasn’t what I wanted (going into the first turn) but thank God he ran his race,” jockey Junior Alvarado explained. “I was a little wide, there was a little bumping and I didn’t want to strangle him and take him back right away and give it easily to the other horses, but he settled nice for me.”
Awesome Banner was hustled to the front of the pack and was content to set the early pace in moderate splits of :23.52 and :47.07 for the first half-mile with Zulu hot on his heels and stalking in second. Awesome Speed was also in hot pursuit early but was no match for the top two and, before the field had traveled three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.02, the frontrunner had retreated and Zulu had taken command while Mohaymen was already passing his tiring rivals and was full of run rounding the bend.
Zulu, closest to the rail, and Mohaymen, racing to his outside and in the three path, reached the quarter pole in tandem, but in just two strides the confident gray’s head was in front and, as he straightened out for the drive, he drew away under what can only be described as “confident handling” to victory.
After logging a mile in 1:36.06 over a main track labeled “fast,” the Shadwell Stable color-bearer stopped the clock in 1:42.84 for the 1 1/16-mile fast main track test.
“It’s special,” McLaughlin said. “It’s more nerve-wracking each race because we’re four-for-four going into today and you never know what’s going to happen going forward. He’s obviously a very talented colt. We just hope we don’t have any mishaps in a race like a horse bumping into him or something like that.
“He’s a special colt, very smart. You can see he’s not even blowing when he’s coming back. He just does things different.”
With the $245,520 winner’s share of the Fountain of Youth purse, Mohaymen boosted his bankroll to $805,350, inching closer to the $2.2 million his owners paid for him as a Keeneland September yearling in 2014. He is the second and so far most successful foal out of the Grade 2-winning Dixie Union mare Justwhistledixie.
Not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the fillies in the East were loaded for bear and ready to prove their mettle as they make their way to the first Friday in May and the Kentucky Oaks. With the best in the West — Fox Hill Farm’s undefeated champion Songbird — chilling in trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Southern California barn and waiting for next week’s Santa Ysabel Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita, the best in the East were lining up for the Davona Dale.
Cash is King’s undefeated superstar Cathryn Sophia was the filly to beat off of three career victories by a combined 33 1/2 lengths and, so, went postward in Saturday’s undercard feature as the 1-5 favorite in in the field of six. Once again, she did little more than put on a show, dominating in victory by seven lengths. Ridden for the first time by Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano, subbing for injured jockey Joel Rosario, the Maryland-bred daughter of Street Boss was trained to her fourth win in as many starts by John Servis, who tightened the girth on Smarty Jones for two classic wins on the 2004 Triple Crown trail.
At odds of 1-5, Cathryn Sophia paid more in bragging rights from her East Coast fans than she did at the windows, where she returned $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10. Runner-up Lewis Bay capped off the $7.20 exacta and was worth $2.80 and $2.20 at odds of nearly 6-1, while Dearest, who crossed the wire three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up, paid $2.20 at 5-1. The $1 trifecta paid $6.80.
A versatile runner who can set the pace or sit just off it, Castellano chose the latter with Cathryn Sophia and after sitting just off the early pace of :24.05, :47.12 and 1:11.88 set by three dueling rivals right in front of her, she easily took command as the field turned for home, drawing away from her tiring rivals while logging seven furlongs in 1:24.26 and a mile in 1:36.61. R Girls a Charmer, Bagema and Rondos Lily completed the order of finish. Thrilled was scratched.
“It’s crazy. I’ve had some nice fillies over time, but to have a horse like Smarty Jones and to have a filly like this, it doesn’t happen, not for a guy from Parx,” Servis said. “It’s very exciting. I think she’s just now coming into herself. Timing-wise, May might (be her time).”
Cathryn Sophia will likely stay in the Sunshine State to prepare for the Kentucky Oaks, Servis and her owners said, putting her probable date with Songbird off until they race under the Twin Spires on the first Friday in May.
“We love Florida and five weeks from now is [the Gulfstream Park] Oaks (GII),” Cash is King’s Chuck Zacney said. “That will be next for her.”
Cathryn Sophia picked up the winner’s check of $122,760 to bring her career earnings to $335,520. She was a $30,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling in 2014 and is out of the Mineshaft mare Sheave.
Other notable winners on the action-packed card Saturday included Gulfstream Park Sprint (GIII) champ X Y Jet, who picked up his fifth consecutive victory. The Jorge Navarro trainee will start next in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (GI) on the Dubai World Cup undercard at Meydan Racecourse at the end of March. The gray gelding is a 4-year-old son of Kantharos owned by Rockingham Ranch and Gelfenstein Farm.
Barber, Ambler and Windways Farm’s Catch a Glimpse made her 2016 debut a winning one, capturing the $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes (GIIIT) under regular jockey Florent Geroux. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of City Zip was the public’s 3-5 favorite and, despite losing a little focus in the lane, according to her rider, finished strongly to win by 2 1/2 lengths in a final time of 1:42.63.
Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart broke alertly in front and never looked back to log an impressive wire-to-wire score in the $150,000 Canadian Turf Stakes (GIIIT). The Ontario-bred son of English Channel was the post-time favorite off his win over the course last out in the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (GIIT) and paid $3.80. Julien Leparoux was back in the saddle for the one-mile test and the Brian Lynch trainee stopped the teletimer in 1:33.52.
The last graded stakes on the day’s card was the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (GIIIT) won by Paul Pompa Jr.’s Converge. The bay son of Sidney’s Candy, out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Stormy Atlantic mare Atlantic Ocean, closed from near the back of the pack in the 13-runner field at odds of nearly 3-1 and won by a half-length under Javier Castellano, who picked up his fourth winner of the day. Converge returned $7.80 and finished the 1 1/16 miles over the firm turf in 1:40.64 for trainer Chad Brown.
The six graded stakes on Saturday’s 13-race program at Gulfstream Park prompted record wagering for total handle for a Fountain of Youth card with $24.113 million wagered. Saturday’s record handle topped the mark of $20.680 set last year.
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.