The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon set out in the 1500s in search of a mythical fountain, which was believed to be located in the southeastern part of the North American continent and which gave all who drank from it eternal youth. Gulfstream Park named a race in honor of the mythical tale and, now, in its 77th running, the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) has become a key stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (GI), which will be held this year on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
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).
Fourteen horses have completed the Fountain of Youth-Florida Derby double, the most recent being Orb in 2013. He is also one of four to complete the Fountain of Youth-Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby hat trick. The other three are Tim Tam (1958), Spectacular Bid (1979) and Thunder Gulch (1995).
The race was not run in three years — 1946, 1948 and 1952. But in 1983, 1986 and 1993 the race was split and run in two divisions. In 1947 it was run twice — early in the year for 3-year-olds and late in the year for 2-year-olds.
The race has three records for final time, because the race has been run at three distances since its inception — 1 mile in 1:35.01 (2009, Quality Road); 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 (1978, Sensitive Prince); and 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.87 (2010, Eskendereya). In 2012, Gulfstream added a second finish line so the Fountain of Youth and other dirt races could be contested at 1 1/16 miles.
Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas have both saddled three winners a piece. Pletcher sent out Scat Daddy (2007), Eskendereya (2010) and Itsaknockout (2012) — the latter finishing second before being elevated to the victory following the disqualification of the actual winner, Upstart. Lukas saddled Dance Floor (1992), Thunder Gulch (1995) and High Yield (2000).
Two Hall of Fame jockeys, Jerry Bailey and John Velazquez, have won the Fountain of Youth race four times each. Bailey won the race in three different decades, with Naked Sky (1980), Lil’s Lad (1998), Read the Footnotes (2004) and High Fly (2005).
With a Road to the Roses points offering of 50-20-10-5, eleven will line up to race the 1 1/16 miles this year, the lion’s share of the $400,000 pot just icing on the Kentucky Derby cake.
Saturday’s weather will be warm and muggy, with partly cloudy skies and highs in the lower 80s. Expect fast and firm conditions all day. A total of 14 races have been carded, of which nine are graded stakes. The Fountain of Youth is the 13th race on the day with a post time of 5:32 p.m. ET.
The field of 11, from the rail out:
Code of Honor – The Champagne Stakes (GI) runner-up makes his first start since a disappointing fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in January as the 4-5 favorite. The race’s leading jockey John Velazquez rides for Shug McGaughey, who sent out Derby winner Orb to victory here. The jockey/trainer combo has been hitting at a 10 percent clip for the past two months.
Epic Dreamer – This is a son of 2013 Fountain of Youth/Kentucky Derby winner Orb. He showed the way before fading to fourth in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII) last out. He’s had trouble in stakes company since breaking his maiden at Belmont Park back in late October. The $185,000 2-year-old in training purchase (out of a Dixieland Band mare) should handle the distance. Trainer Kelly Breen and jockey Tyler Gaffalione have yet to capture a Fountain of Youth.
Gladiator King – The most experienced runner in the field, making his 11th start. Trainer Jaime Mejia and jokey Jorge Solorzano make their Fountain of Youth debuts. This colt is a well-bred son of classic winner and dual Horse of the Year Curlin, but has had most of his luck in sprints.
Bourbon War – Mark Hennig, looking for his first Fountain of Youth win, sends out this $410,000 son of Tapit off a nice allowance win at this distance over this track five weeks ago. He is a closer with a distance pedigree and Irad Ortiz Jr. rides, looking for his second Fountain of Youth victory following his win on Promises Fulfilled a year ago.
Vekoma – The George Weaver-trained Nashua Stakes (GIII) winner makes his seasonal debut and his first start in more than four months. Manny Franco is back aboard the undefeated son of Candy Ride, who should appreciate the extra sixteenth of a mile for the first time.
Signalman – This Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) winner already has a win at this distance and at Churchill Downs, plus his third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is much better than it looks (bad post, some trouble and traffic). Trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. haven’t earned a Fountain of Youth win yet, but this $32,000 son of General Quarters, who has some good figures and a nice record of 5-2-2-1, may change all that. He already has 18 points to make the Derby gate, so a win here would make him number one, above current leader War of Will, who has 60.
Hidden Scroll – This Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Hard Spun created a ton of buzz when he broke his maiden at a mile over a sloppy Gulfstream track by 14 lengths. While an immediate jump into graded company normally is a big task, especially on the Derby trail, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott certainly knows what he’s doing — so second-guessing the move isn’t wise. Joel Rosario, who won the Derby on Orb but wasn’t aboard him in the Fountain of Youth, is in town from California for the race, looking to give himself and Mott a first win here.
Global Campaign – Luis Saez has ridden two winners of the Fountain of Youth (2014, 2015) and is back on this one in his stakes debut for Stan Hough. Another son of Curlin, he’s won both of his races here at Gulfstream and has a win at this distance. The post isn’t ideal for a speedy runner with some other speedy runners to his inside, but he’s in good hands.
Everfast – was a decent second to Harvey Wallbanger in the Holy Bull Stakes at huge odds of 128-1 and was beaten just a length after a mid-pack trip. Trainer Dale Romans sent out Promises Fulfilled to win this race at big odds a year ago and hopes to repeat with Chris Landeros up, looking for his first Fountain of Youth victory.
Frosted Grace – hails from the connections of Breeders’ Cup champion Mucho Macho Man (Reeves Thoroughbreds and trainer Kathy Ritvo) and had a troubled trip to finish fifth in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes (GIII) last out. The son of Mark Valeski will stretch out to the distance for the first time and the post isn’t great for the colt, who seems to like to be forwardly placed early. Ritvo and jockey Jonathan Gonzalez have yet to win this race.
Union’s Destiny – This son of Union Rags had the unfortunate luck to draw the far outside. He has a win over the Gulfstream Park main track, but tests the distance for the first time. Trainer Juan Avila and jockey Leonel Reyes make their Fountain of Youth debuts.