Saturday's card at Gulfstream Park is headlined by the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Here at Picks and Ponderings, we have a full preview of the Fountain of Youth, a race which offers a purse of $400,000 as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) to its top four finishers.
We also provide selections for the day's eight other stakes races in a spreadsheet at the bottom of this post.
The two other dirt stakes include the Davona Dale (G2), in which two-year-old champion filly Jaywalk will try to punch her ticket to the Kentucky Oaks, and the Gulfstream Park Sprint (G3), in which Quijote (owned by local mainstay Midwest Thoroughbreds) will try to keep up the good work after upsetting X Y Jet in January.
The six turf stakes should hold together well, as the forecast calls for sun and dry weather. Among both three-year-olds and older, the turf races epitomize why early-season grass stakes are so much fun. They drew mixes of well-established turf horses trying to get their seasons started off well, loading into the gate against rising stars trying to prove they belong.
These races, like all at Gulfstream, stream for free online on the Gulfstream website. Horse Racing Radio Network also has audio broadcasting and analysis of the Fountain of Youth, Davona Dale, and Mac Diarmida, available on both Sirius/XM93 and their website.
Selections for the Palm Beach S., Canadian Turf S., Very One S., Herecomesthebride S., Honey Fox S., and Mac Diarmida S. are for turf only.
Saturday, March 2 - Gulfstream Park
Race 13: Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:32pm 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.
One horse jumps off the page in the Fountain of Youth this year -- and before you ask, no, it's not 9/5 morning-line favourite HIDDEN SCROLL. Yes, his Pegasus-day unveiling was impressive, but at chalk-to-one it's hard to want to bet that he'll run back to it. The debut came on the front end over a sloppy track. This time he'll have a lot more to tackle up front with GLADIATOR KING stretching out from a turf sprint, EPIC DREAMER returning after setting the pace in the Holy Bull, and class-risers GLOBAL CAMPAIGN and FROSTED GRACE with speed outside of him. He'll also have to prove he is as good over a dry footing as he is over the slop for which he is bred so well. And, it's true that trainer Bill Mott doesn't toss talented horses into stakes company without good reason. But, remember all those tattered win tickets on Hofburg last year? We do, too.
Anyway, if it's not HIDDEN SCROLL, who is jumping off the page? It's BOURBON WAR. The son of Tapit impressed in an allowance victory over this course and distance on January 18, showing a sharp late kick and navigating through foes to get to the front. In a race where he drew relatively inside against plenty of foes who can show plenty of pace, those skills should serve BOURBON WAR well once again. His late pace shines for this field, and given Gulfstream's reputation as such a speed-friendly track, it's a good thing to see that he has proven he can close over this track. The pilot also gives confidence: Irad Ortiz is a 25% winner this meet at Gulfstream, and should be able to give BOURBON WAR just the trip he needs to make the grade today.
SIGNALMAN has not been flashy in five starts so far, but he sure has been good. He kept top-level company through the fall last time; in three graded stakes starts, all at the Holy Bull distance of a mile and a sixteenth, he has two Grade 1 placings and a Grade 2 win to show for it. In all three of those route races, SIGNALMAN sat off the pace, giving confidence that he will be able to stay out of the fight on the front end and confront the pacesetters late. Though he hasn't yet run at Gulfstream, he has run well over enough different ovals to think he can take his racetrack with him. Finally, though the McPeek barn is only an 8% winner over the last three years with horses laid off over 90 days, SIGNALMAN has himself run well when fresh, and McPeek got a win picture with a layoff horse at Gulfstream last month when Harvey Wallbanger lit the tote on fire in the Holy Bull (G2).
VEKOMA makes his first start of this three-year-old year, but did everything asked of him at age two. He won a maiden sprint at Belmont at first asking, then stretched out to win over the one-turn mile trip at Aqueduct. In both of those races, VEKOMA sat a few lengths off the early pace before making his move, suggesting rider Manuel Franco can keep him away from the speed brigade early and get one of the earlier runs on them. The sharp debut effort suggests VEKOMA goes well fresh, and the consistent presence on the worktab shows that trainer George Weaver has been working some fitness into him. One question is the distance, as this will be VEKOMA's first start at two turns. Though his dam side raises questions as the distances get longer, today's race is only a mile and a sixteenth -- at trip short enough to think this son of Candy Ride could stay.
#4 BOURBON WAR (10/1)
#6 SIGNALMAN (9/2)
#5 VEKOMA (7/2)
Longshot: Among longshots who can hit the board, it makes some sense to use EVERFAST underneath; he is versatile enough to sit off the speed and rally, like he did in the Holy Bull (G2), and should be a price if he sneaks in for a share again. But, for someone a bit more appealing if you're looking for another price to cover on top? We haven't quite seen the best of #8 GLOBAL CAMPAIGN (10/1) yet. He is a two-time winner over the course, and as his pedigree (a Curlin half to Bolt d'Oro) would suggest, he stretched out nicely to the mile and a sixteenth in a February 9 allowance. 21% rider Luis Saez returns to the irons from that effort, for trainer Stanley Hough, who has placed his horses impeccably this meet. The biggest question for GLOBAL CAMPAIGN is the pace; there's no shortage of early gas in this year's Fountain of Youth, and GLOBAL CAMPAIGN prompted the early fractions in both his sprint debut and his two-turn allowance try. But, if the colt shows a bit more adaptability than he needed to against lesser foes, or the track is playing particularly well for speed, he may overcome the tough pace scenario.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for the stakes races on Fountain of Youth day at Gulfstream Park. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
For anyone on a mobile device or another browser that struggles with embedded spreadsheets, read the standalone copy here.
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