By Richard Rosenblatt
When the starting gate sprung open, and Ete Indien shot to the lead from the outside post under jockey Florent Geroux, there was little doubt about who would win the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
Ete Indian led gate-to-wire and dusted off nine rivals, including favorite Dennis’ Moment, and put himself squarely into the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture by picking up 50 qualifying points to run on the first Saturday in May.
Ete Indien won by 8 ½ lengths, with 23-1 long shot Candy Tycoon second.
Trained by Frenchman Patrick Biancone, the 3-year-old son of Summer Front broke superbly and cruised straight to the lead, with long shots Gear Jockey and Liam’s Lucky Charm trying to stay close.
Meanwhile, the unpredictable Dennis’ Moment, ridden by Flavien Prat, had a tough start, with the jockey saying there was a bobble at the start. Considered among the top early Derby contenders off two impressive wins to go with unseating his rider in a race and a serious stumble at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Dennis’ Moment never got into the race, and Prat said “at the 5/8th pole, he dropped the bit” and he “may have grabbed a quarter.”
“I just hope he’s all right,’’ trainer Dale Romans said “We’ll take him back and check him out. That wasn’t what I was expecting. When he didn’t get to the lead early, I was concerned.”
Meanwhile, Ete Indien ($8.60 for a $2 win bet), who was second to Tiz the Law in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream of Feb. 1, moved into first place on the Derby leaderboard with 54 points. Runner-up Candy Tycoon earned 20 points, and As Seen on Tv was third for 10 points. Shotski picked up five points with a fourth-place finish.
Country Grammer was fifth, followed by Masterday, The Falcon, Gear Jockey, Liam’s Lucky Charm and Dennis’ Moment.
“The horse just responded very well. He broke very alertly from the gate and from there I just made sure he was in a nice and easy rhythm,’’ Geroux, who replaced the injured Luca Panici, said “Turning for home, I looked at the TV and he was long gone. I was trying to keep him focused, he was maybe zig-zagging that last 16th of a mile but he got the job done. It’s great to have a chance to be in the Derby.”
Biancone, who also trains Derby contender Sole Volante, started out Ete Indien on the turf, but made the change to dirt thinking about perhaps a Run for the Roses.
“We have been through a week of hiccups. First, we lose our jockey, and second we draw (outside) but good horses can overcome everything and I think he’s an exceptional horse,’’ Biancone said.
Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.02.
Chance It and Makabim were scratched, leaving a field of 10 for the steppingstone race before the Florida Derby (G1).
“He’ll need to improve a little bit to be able to win the Florida Derby,’’ Biancone said. “We’re here in Florida, he’s training in Florida and we love Florida. I think we’ll take a shot if he’s in good form.”