2016 Fountain of Youth and Davona Dale Stakes Preview

Myths of the Fountain of Youth have come in many forms over the centuries.  However, for one weekend a year, the Fountain of Youth is a reality.

This Saturday’s card at Gulfstream Park features South Florida’s next steps down both the Derby trail and the Oaks trail.  Open sophomores will contest the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII), the second of three Kentucky Derby points races contested during the Winter Championship meet.  Covering the same mile and a sixteenth distance as last month’s Holy Bull, the Fountain of Youth will help bring to light which of the Florida three-year-old contingent are on the right form trajectory toward the Derby.  The Davona Dale will do that for the fillies, as well, but also provides an added distance test compared to their previous prep.  The one-turn mile of the Davona Dale is a furlong more ground than the Florida fillies faced in the Forward Gal.

In addition to Gulfstream, the Oaks trail also makes its way to Aqueduct for the Busher Stakes.  Paul Mazur has an in-depth preview of the Busher.

All races are scheduled for Saturday, February 27 at Gulfstream Park.  Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Updated Saturday, February 27th for the scratch of THRILLED from the Davona Dale.

Race 5: Davona Dale Stakes (GII), three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 1:56pm 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 I 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.

Thus far, no winner of the Davona Dale has gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks.  Four, however, 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 the likely favourite in this year’s Fountain of Youth, Mohaymen.

Onlyforyou posts a commanding victory in the 2014 Davona Dale Stakes (GII), the final race of her undefeated and tragically short career. Third-place Aurelia’s Belle proved better on polytrack and dirt, and won the Arlington Oaks that summer. Stopchargingmaria, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, finished fifth.

This year’s renewal of the Davona Dale offers a $200,000 purse, and Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) to its top four.  Previously, in the Forward Gal, this space took a strong stand against CATHRYN SOPHIA.  At that point, she had not proven herself off the lead, and she had not proven herself against this class of horses.  That afternoon, she proved all of that and then some.  She did not get the early lead, she ran into trip trouble, but she still rallied to win easily in hand.  She proved she was the goods.

That level of versatility will help CATHRYN SOPHIA here, as R GIRLS A CHARMER needs the lead, and RONTOS LILY’s only particularly good effort came on the lead as well.  Longshot BAGEMA stretches out, and has shown speed; a “send-and-see” strategy may be the only one for a horse in so far over her head on paper.  THRILLED also goes blinkers-on for the first time here, and could show more speed than before.  With the knowledge that CATHRYN SOPHIA can sit off, handle the Gulfstream track, and handle adversity, combined with the fact that she is so consistently fast compared to this field, this space takes a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude toward her.  The biggest question is the fact that she has never done a mile before.  But, she does have seven-furlong form at Gulfstream, and a Street Boss baby out of a Mineshaft mare has every right to relish one more furling.  CATHRYN SOPHIA will not be value in the win pool — with the likes of LEWIS BAY, THRILLED, and R GIRLS A CHARMER she may be more like 3/5 than 1/9, but that’s the extent of the price this space figures to get.  That said, this space would single her, and sees no use in getting cute.

Though LEWIS BAY comes off the lay, she has every chance to hit the board.  LEWIS BAY races for the first time since her victory in the Demoiselle (GII) last November.  However, she has been on the worktab since early January, and trainer Chad Brown fires at 28% with runners laid off 90 days or more.  LEWIS BAY cuts back from nine furlongs last out, but has a seven-furlong win to break her maiden.  That suggests the one-turn mile could be within her abilities.  She would have to take a huge step forward first off the lay to beat CATHRYN SOPHIA, but even a return to her two-year-old form should get her a share against this set.

For anyone determined to swing against CATHRYN SOPHIA in the win pool, DEAREST has about as much appeal as LEWIS BAY, but perhaps at a better price given that she doesn’t come from a national name-brand barn like Brown or Pletcher.  Trainer Gilberto Zarpa has been choosy with his spots this Gulfstream meet: eight starts, but two wins and another money finish to show for it.  DEAREST herself has two wins in two starts, and is the only one in the field with Brisnet speed figures truly on par with CATHRYN SOPHIA.  In terms of style, she has a stalking style that should keep her within range, but give her no need to burn herself chasing R GIRLS A CHARMER early.  She has to prove herself in classier company, since this is her stakes debut.  But, she has only started twice, and is second off the lay.  She has every right to improve.  DEAREST also has local extended-sprint form, with an allowance win going seven furlongs over the Gulfstream track.  Her dam won going as long as a mile, suggesting DEAREST may stretch out here.  No matter what, DEAREST belongs in the exotics, and she has more merit than anyone for those who like to be speculative or contrarian with a win bet.

The one horse to take a stand against is R GIRLS A CHARMER.  Yes, she has a win at Gulfstream, and she has an extended-sprint win at Tampa.  But, she is one-way speed, and she is likely to get some competition as outlined above.  Her pedigree also suggests she may not like the extra furlong very much: she is by sprinter In Summation, and from a female family where all the class comes at short distances.



#4 LEWIS BAY (4/1)

#2 DEAREST (5/1)

Longshot:  With the scratch of THRILLED, DEAREST got a promotion.

Race 12: Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:30pm EST

The Fountain of Youth Stakes takes its name from the legendary Fountain of Youth.  Some have placed it in Abkhazia, others Bimini, and cooler (or 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 III beginning 1973, and then upgraded to a GII in 1982.  It has kept that designation ever since, except for 1999-2003 when it was a GI.  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), 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.

Built for Pleasure surprised a few people — Tom Durkin included — when he won the 1996 Fountain of Youth at 143/1 odds. Eventual Belmont Stakes winner Editor’s Note crossed the wire fifth.

This year’s renewal of the Fountain of Youth Stakes offers a $400,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) to horses placed in the top four.  MOHAYMEN will likely be the heavy favourite, particularly after his facile win last out over this same course and distance in the Holy Bull Stakes (GII).  Unfortunately for those seeking a price, MOHAYMEN looks like the goods.  He has never looked like he has had to try too hard to go as fast or faster than these.  He can get at least this distance, and we have not seen his bottom.  Furthermore, the pace should set up well for him.  AWESOME BANNER and GOLDEN RAY will most certainly send, AWESOME SPEED should not be far off, and even ZULU has been known to want a piece of the front-end action.  MOHAYMEN will not be far off the pace, but he does not stand to get locked into a duel.  Leave it to MOHAYMEN to do what he has done several times before: wait for Junior Alvarado to push the button, and roll past the early speed.

This space considered tabbing ZULU for the upset, but could not quite come up with enough despite the short price likely on the favourite.  Though stepping up to outperform MOHAYMEN Saturday would be an extremely tall order for ZULU, he has more upside than anyone to take a big step forward.  He is the most lightly-raced runner in the field, having only started twice.  Both of those starts came at Gulfstream, and both were victories.  The speed figures are also encouraging, as both are in range of what MOHAYMEN has shown.  Though the last came over slop, his debut was over a dry track; Saturday’s fast going should be fine.  This will be ZULU’s first try at a route, but there are suggestions that he will get there.  He is by Bernardini, a solid dirt route sire.  On bottom, he is out of Temporada.  That Summer Squall mare may be familiar to dutiful followers of local racing — after all, she produced star Illinois-bred sprinter Third Chance (Kafwain).  However, five of her nine winners to date have had their pictures taken going a mile or more; she can produce routers, too.

For a third choice, there were two credible candidates from the Stanley Gold barn: AWESOME BANNER and FELLOWSHIP.  Pay attention to how the track plays Saturday.  If a serious speed bias unfolds, given AWESOME BANNER a plus-factor as speed of the speed in a short field, particularly given his ability to survive a pressured pace.  However, should the track be playing at least moderately fairly, the “Gold B” FELLOWSHIP appeals a bit more.  His form at a mile and a sixteenth has been excellent.  He won a Florida-sired stakes at this distance over the Gulfstream main last summer.  Then, last out, he finished third in the Holy Bull as a 40/1 bomber.  Though he was last early in a field of six, behind a slow pace, he still rallied well enough to get up for third behind MOHAYMEN that day.  FELLOWSHIP will almost certainly see more pace in this race, making his strong late pace attractive.  Though turning the tables on the favourite seems a bridge too far, hitting the board at a price once again is within FELLOWSHIP’s grasp.





Longshot: The longshot writer is firmly ensconced in the PPs for the nightcap: a maiden special weight with twice as many entries as this race, plus a couple of also-eligibles.


You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Race Course. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.

Leave a comment