This weekend, the national spotlight shines once more on the Sunshine State. Saturday's stakes-laden card at Gulfstream Park features a pair of sophomore points races: the Fountain of Youth (G2) for the Derby-bound, and the Davona Dale (G2) for fillies. The Fountain of Youth is the only Derby prep this weekend, and it drew a field of ten to contest the race. The Davona Dale drew a field of eight -- quite healthy, given the plethora of Oaks preps this weekend.
Picks and Ponderings does preview all of this week's points preps, the rest of which are all on the Road to the Oaks. Thursday's card at Meydan features the UAE Oaks (G3). Saturday's action includes the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, as well as the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita.
Morning line for the Davona Dale not available at original publish time. Updated Thursday, March 1 to add morning lines for the Davona Dale. Updated Saturday, March 3, to account for the scratch of FREE DROP BILLY from the Fountain of Youth.
Saturday, March 3 - Gulfstream Park
Race 8: Davona Dale Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 3:00pm EST
The Davona Dale Stakes has been run at Gulfstream since 1988 in honour of Davona Dale. Davona Dale was a force of nature in 1979, at the age of three. She won eight consecutive starts during that year, a streak that began with a victory in the Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream. (The Bonnie Miss is now run as the Gulfstream Park Oaks.) During that eight-win tear, Davona Dale won five Grade 1 races: the Fantasy, the Kentucky Oaks, the Acorn, the Mother Goose, and the Coaching Club American Oaks. She was voted the Eclipse Award winner for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, and inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, her first year of eligibility.
In 2016, for the first time ever, a Davona Dale Stakes winner went on to win the Kentucky Oaks: Cathryn Sophia. Though Cathryn Sophia did not stay on the Gulfstream trail to the Oaks -- she took her final prep in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland - four other Davona Dale winners have gone on to win the Gulfstream Park Oaks (née Bonnie Miss) after taking this race: Glitter Woman (1997), Three Ring (1999), Cash Run (2000), and Justwhistledixie (2009). Justwhistledixie has also distinguished herself in the breeding shed: she produced 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner New Year's Day as well as multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen.
Cathryn Sophia wins the 2016 Davona Dale Stakes easily. She would go on to win the Kentucky Oaks.
The Davona Dale is a one-turn mile, and FLY SO HIGH is emerging as a crack one-turn miler. Third on debut going six furlongs at Belmont, she ran out of real estate. She romped on the front end next out going a mile at Aqueduct, and then rallied from midpack to win a one-turn mile N1X at Gulfstream on January 4. Jose Ortiz rode her for all three of those starts, and Ortiz returns to ride FLY SO HIGH today. This daughter of Malibu Moon has shown about as much as she can be expected to show in three starts: talent, affinity for the course and distance, and tactical versatility. The waters do get a little deeper for her here, but even just a run back to her N1X effort gives her a good chance to win this.
CACHE debuted on the Pegasus World Cup undercard. She was the buzz horse leading into that seven-furlong maiden special weight, and she remained the talk of the town coming out of it. The kind of trip she got last out, tracking the pace and making a well-timed rally, should suit the honest front-end scenario of this race as well. CACHE will have to take a step forward here to win, of course. But, she does not need an unreasonable amount of second-start progression to get there, and running less greenly than last out should get her a good portion of the way there. CACHE has answered the Gulfstream question, her pedigree suggests that more distance (not just this one-turn mile, but beyond) should suit her beautifully, and she comes into this spot full of upside.
Now, we get to the top pair from the Forward Gal (G3) TAKE CHARGE PAULA and SULTRY. TAKE CHARGE PAULA won that round, and with her tactical speed, she makes sense to cover defensively on larger multi-race tickets. However? SULTRY should provide a bit better value here, as she has a right to turn the tables. The Forward Gal was her first race since November, so she should be tighter here second off the lay. SULTRY closed very well for second place in that last race. And, with more speed likely in front of her, the Eddie Kenneally trainee stands to get an even better run of things here. Unfortunately, she loses her rider from last out; Jose Ortiz takes the call on FLY SO HIGH instead. But, she gets a solid replacement in Joe Bravo: a rider who doesn't need to take his track with him, and knows how to show up in stakes races at a square price.
#8 FLY SO HIGH (1/1)
#7 CACHE (6/1)
#1 SULTRY (8/1)
Longshot: Watch the tote on #3 HEAVENHASMYNIKKI (12/1). 5/1 last out was an underlay, but with four horses in this field of eight certain to take more money than she does, she may actually be an interesting price this time around. Last out, she was right on a pressured pace, then faded. This time around, she gets a rider change to Irad Ortiz (a 24% rider this Gulfstream meet), and there's enough other possible speed that she could end up just a bit off the pace. That's how she won her first two starts, and may possibly be the better style for this daughter of Majestic Warrior. The mile distance is a question for HEAVENHASMYNIKKI; the top of the pedigree suggests she won't mind it, although her dam (a Forest Wildcat mare) has had a pattern of producing sprinters. That said? One of her progeny (Dougs Buddy, by Badge of Silver) is graded stakes placed in Canada going eleven furlongs, so there's a bit of hope she'll stretch out. At a price, you could do worse than to give her one more chance and hope Ortiz rates her a bit again.
Race 14: Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 6:09pm EST
The Fountain of Youth Stakes takes its name from the legendary Fountain of Youth. Some have placed it in Abkhazia, others Bimini. Cooler, less whimsical heads have claimed it never existed at all. Spanish conquistador Ponce de León gained royal charter to search for the lands of Beniny, where that fountain was rumoured to exist. He never found it...but he did reach the coast of Florida, including perhaps an area (with a spring) that eventually became St. Augustine.
The Fountain of Youth has been run since 1945, with gaps in 1946, 1948, and 1952. It was a Grade 3 beginning 1973, and then upgraded to a G2 in 1982. It has kept that designation ever since, except for 1999-2003 when it was a G1. It has been run at distances between a mile and a mile and an eighth, though has been as its current mile and a sixteenth for most of its history (1953-2004, 2012-present). Fortunately, Florida's search for Kentucky Derby winners has been a bit more fruitful than de León's search for the waters of eternal life. To date, the Fountain of Youth has produced five horses who wore the roses on the first Saturday in May: Tim Tam (1958), Kauai King (1966), Spectacular Bid (1979), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Orb (2013). Of more local relevance, onetime Arlington stakes namesake Sea O Erin won the Fountain of Youth in 1954. He was a stakes winner at Arlington, Hawthorne, and Washington Park during his career.
Thunder Gulch digs in to win the 1995 Fountain of Youth Stakes. He went on to annex both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
This is Gulfstream, and good frontrunners deserve a long look, even when there's a contested pace. STRIKE POWER might not have it as easy on the front as he did in his maiden win or the Swale (G3) last out -- PROMISES FULFILLED (FREE DROP BILLY's longshot stablemate) will almost certainly send from the outside, and stretch-out sprinter MACHISMO won't be too far from the lead, either. Still? STRIKE POWER drew closest to the inside among the speed brigade, and he appears the most likely to dictate the pace going into the first turn of the Fountain of Youth. STRIKE POWER can also doubtless handle Gulfstream, as both of his starts have come over the course. The question is whether he will stretch out, as he has not gone past the seven furlongs of the Swale. Though the top of the pedigree (Speightstown) isn't the best for going long, he is out of a Medaglia d'Oro mare whose family has some stamina, and who herself was stakes-quality at nine and ten furlongs on grass. If STRIKE POWER's talent translates to two turns, he stands to be the best of the speed, and thus rates a serious win chance.
GOOD MAGIC makes his first start since his maiden-breaker. Of course, he is well-tested against stakes horses: that maiden win came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), and he also finished second in the Champagne (G1) last fall. The son of Curlin has raw talent, tactical speed, and it's always a positive to see a horse take a big step forward and break the maiden in his first try going two turns. But? GOOD MAGIC makes his first start in four months, and faces horses who have been racing more recently, who may get the fitness edge on him. GOOD MAGIC also hasn't had a race over the Gulfstream course yet, leaving open the question of how well he handles it. Of course, if GOOD MAGIC brings his best first off the bench, the others may well be racing for second money. But, there are enough questions at a short price to make GOOD MAGIC a defensive use more than anything.
GOTTA GO surprised many in his three-year-old debut, when he rallied stoutly for second behind STRIKE POWER in the Swale. Given his pedigree, as he is a son of Shanghai Bobby out of an Unbridled's Song mare who did her best at a two-turn trip, the seven furlongs of the Swale may prove a little short for GOTTA GO's best. This mile and a sixteenth trip should suit him better. A little tighter second off the lay, with both a proven ability to close at Gulfstream and a good chance a good chance for some speed in front of him, and GOTTA GO should find himself in the frame late once again.
#4 STRIKE POWER (4/1)
#6 GOOD MAGIC (7/5)
#7 GOTTA GO (10/1)
Longshot: #9 MACHISMO (15/1) turned heads on the Holy Bull undercard, romping by eleven lengths in a maiden special weight that day. The Anthony Quartarolo trainee has much to prove in this spot: the Fountain of Youth will be his first time facing winners, and his first time going two turns. Based on pedigree, a mile and a sixteenth should not be too difficult for MACHISMO, a son of More than Ready out of a Smart Strike mare who has already produced two-turn winners. And, on pace? Though it will be tough for him to outjump STRIKE POWER, particularly from the nine-hole, MACHISMO doesn't need to. He stalked and pounced beautifully in that maiden win, and that kind of tactic should get him the first run on likely early leaders STRIKE POWER and PROMISES FULFILLED.
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