Fountain of Youth Stakes: Kentucky Derby Prep or Just a Nice Race?

Orb

Orb captured the Fountain of Youth Stakes en route to winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby (photo via NPR.org).

There is little question that some very good, even great, horses have won the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The race was first run in 1945 and is for three-year-olds going a mile and a sixteenth. With the race being run during the last month of winter, usually late February or early March, it seems ideally suited for a fruitful Kentucky Derby prep.

As is often the case in the Sport of Kings, things didn’t turn out quite the way it looked like they would. Over the past 38 years, the race has only produced three winners of the Run for the Roses — Spectacular Bid in 1979, Thunder Gulch in 1995 and, more recently, Orb in 2013. I’m not saying the race hasn’t been productive career-wise for many a thoroughbred, but it hasn’t exactly shown itself to be a Kentucky Derby showcase.

What does that mean this year, you may ask? Absolutely nothing. Every year and crop is different; and every year the scenario and entrants in the race are different. Those types of statistics mean zero on any given day. They’ll hurt you more than help you in the long run. Each race and crop should be evaluated on its own merits, and the Fountain of Youth has already proved it can, under the right circumstances, produce a Kentucky Derby winner, a champion and some outstanding thoroughbreds.

Tim Tam, Kauai King, Spectacular Bid and Thunder Gulch all took two of the three legs of the Triple Crown after winning the Fountain of Youth. Proud Truth won the Breeders’ Cup Classic after taking the Fountain of Youth. Forty Niner, Union Rags, Fly So Free, Bet Twice and plenty of others went on to win major stakes after winning the final prep for the Florida Derby and, to optimistic winners, a prep for the big dance — the Kentucky Derby.

Irish War Cry

Irish War Cry won the Holy Bull (GIII) in wire-to-wire fashion.

This year’s renewal is led by the lightly raced, but still undefeated, Irish War Cry. This colt stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Holy Bull and went wire to wire, enjoying an uncontested advantage throughout that race. One of his main challengers on Saturday, Gunnevera, had some traffic troubles in that race and is eligible to improve. The race will be run without last year’s two-year-old champion Classic Empire, who is still recovering from an abscess. If Irish War Cry gets an easy lead again, he may head to the Florida Derby with a full bandwagon.

That might be easier said than done.

Although Mark Casse won’t get to run his “big horse,” Classic Empire, he does have some other nice colts under consideration, including Lookin for Eight, an impressive Gulfstream maiden-breaker, and State of Honor, who was second in the Mucho Macho Man stakes at Gulfstream and third in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa. Both horses would fit and I’d guess Lookin for Eight shows up in the entry box.

Mark Hennig is pointing Beasley to the race. He is lightly raced and on the improve, but he may have to turn the tables on Battalion Runner from Todd Pletcher — another task that might be easier said than done. Pletcher and his powerhouse stable also have Malagacy and Bronson ready to go. I suspect he may have more than one in the Fountain of Youth.

Three Rules who swept the Florida Stallion Series should be in the gate as will the mystery horse, Peruvian Group I winner Huracan Americo. He’s been here since late January and has been pointed towards Saturday’s race.

Perhaps the most intriguing horse Saturday will be one both coming back from a layoff and coming from off the pace. Practical Joke, from the powerhouse Chad Brown barn is also scheduled to make his return in the Fountain of Youth. While the race hasn’t been drawn and it is too early to have an opinion, I think we can safely say there will be some horses in the gate Saturday with a lot of potential.

If that is enough to get one the roses on the first Saturday in May remains to be seen. If I had to bet on that now, I’d say no. We probably will not see the fourth Kentucky Derby winner since 1979 win the Fountain of Youth, but that doesn’t take away from the race at all. It still should be a great match-up, with some established runners, some late developers, a foreign entrant and some comebackers.

Jonathan Stettin
Jonathan has always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings, as he practically grew up at the racetrack. His mother, affectionately known as “Ginger,” was in the stands at Belmont Park the day before he was born as his father, Joe, worked behind the windows as a pari-mutuel clerk.

As a toddler, Jonathan cheered for and followed horses and jockeys, knowing many of the names and bloodlines by the time he was in first grade. Morning coffee in his household was always accompanied by the Daily Racing Form or Morning Telegraph.

At the age of 16, Jonathan dropped out of school and has pretty much been at the races full-time ever since. Of course, he had some of the usual childhood racetrack jobs growing up — mucking stalls, walking hots and rubbing horses. He even enjoyed brief stints as a jockey agent and a mutuel clerk (like his dad).

His best day at the track came on August 10, 1994 at Saratoga, when he hit the pick-6 paying $540,367.

Jonathan continues to be an active and successful player. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin or visit his Web site at www.pastthewire.com.