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.
Present in the Davona Dale is a set of connections familiar to the Chicago Circuit: trainer Armando de la Cerda and owner Hernandez Racing Club. The folks behind Grade I-winning Illinois-bred La Tia are back with Florida-bred filly YES I’LL GO. The daughter of Yes It’s True has won two of her three career starts going into the Davona Dale. De la Cerda’s charge trounced Florida-breds in her November debut, and also won the OBS Sprint Stakes last out.
In addition to this preview of Gulfstream’s pair of three-year-old preps, Picks and Ponderings will be here for you through opening weekend of Hawthorne. The spring meet at 35th and Cicero gets underway Friday, with first post at 4:10pm Central. Watch our Twitter feed (@picksponderings) for live, on-track updates on both Friday and Saturday.
Saturday, March 4 – Gulfstream Park
Race 10: Davona Dale Stakes (G2), three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:34pm 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.
This year, a full field of fourteen fillies will line up to earn a share of a $200,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) for the top four finishers. PRETTY CITY DANCER missed by half a length last out in the Forward Gal (G2), but should be able to do that performance one better here. The Forward Gal was PRETTY CITY DANCER’s first start since the Spa, putting her second off the lay in this spot. She gets plenty of pace to run at, with YES I’LL GO, SARATOGA CITIZEN, and MISS SKY WARRIOR having shown their best on the front — and several others in the field tending to stalk close. PRETTY CITY DANCER may be a closer, but she does not need to come from the clouds. The addition of blinkers should also keep her well in range. The stretch to a mile for the first time in her career also gives her room to improve. Trainer Mark Casse clicks at 18% with runners stretching out to a mile or more for the first time. And, the pedigree works: PRETTY CITY DANCER is a Tapit half to classy router Lear’s Princess.
Though ELOQUENT RIDDLE has class to prove and tables to turn, Chad Brown and Juddmonte Farms do not enter horses in Oaks preps just for giggles. Though she failed as the favourite last out in the Furlough Stakes, she was second behind lone speed Yorkiepoo Princess, a filly who has since emerged in the Oaks picture. This longer distance should suit her. Though she was third behind MISS SKY WARRIOR in her only mile try, in last year’s Tempted (G3), the front end of the Davona Dale looks a bit tougher than it was in the Tempted. That gives ELOQUENT RIDDLE a shot to turn the tables. The biggest question about ELOQUENT RIDDLE is the layoff, since she has not raced since last November. But, she has every right to fire. Brown’s charges win at 27% when laid off for ninety days or more, and this filly won on debut last year.
Should any of the front end survive (always a possibility, because Gulfstream), classy MISS SKY WARRIOR looks the most likely candidate. She can stay on when pressured on the lead, and she proved when winning the Tempted Stakes that she can provide that pace pressure as well. That latter skill may prove useful with stretch-out sprinter YES I’LL GO as well as frontrunning SARATOGA CITIZEN both doing their best on the lead. Finally, though MISS SKY WARRIOR has not yet run at Gulfstream, her connections are as live as they come over the Hallandale oval. Trainer Kelly Breen has six wins in 29 starts over the course of the meet, and Paco Lopez (this filly’s regular rider) has won at a 20% clip on the meet.
#12 PRETTY CITY DANCER (7/2)
#9 ELOQUENT RIDDLE (9/2)
#7 MISS SKY WARRIOR (5/2)
Longshot: #11 ASPEN HILLTOP (10/1) surfaces for the first time since a debut maiden win at Saratoga. That came at six and a half furlongs, whispering extended one-turn prowess. Her pedigree should also be good for a bit more distance: she is a Bernardini daughter of Home Sweet Aspen, a Candy Ride mare who was a Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs. ASPEN HILLTOP should get a nice pace setup here, too. She closed from last to win her debut, and she should have plenty of pace to chase in the Davona Dale. The connections also bode well. Luis Saez rode her to victory in her debut; Saez returns here, and has been winning at 22% this Gulfstream meet. And, though trainer Gary Contessa has not yet connected in twelve starts this Gulfstream meet, he can get a layoff horse ready at a price.
Race 13: Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 6:05pm 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), 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.
A $400,000 purse and Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) enticed eleven horses to the Fountain of Youth. The likely favourite, and one who deserves a long look, is IRISH WAR CRY. He won the Holy Bull (G2) as easily as he wanted, which proves his ability to handle Gulfstream Park. The biggest question for IRISH WAR CRY is the pace: he wired the Holy Bull and sent to the front in the Marylander two starts back, as well. However, this race abounds with speed: TALK LOGISTICS, BEASLEY, TAKAFUL, THREE RULES, and LOOKIN FOR EIGHT have also shown speed. To be fair, IRISH WAR CRY has been able to muster a rally — he closed from well off the early going to win his debut. But, his foes in the Fountain of Youth are a bit tougher than what he faced in a maiden special at Laurel. Can the talented son of Curlin reprise that style? Probably, and no ticket is complete without IRISH WAR CRY on it. However, for win bettors, there’s another horse who stands to supply some more value at the windows.
Let’s get this out of the way first: 10/1 on MADE YOU LOOK is a pipe dream. Something like 6/1 or 7/1 seems more likely. But, he should go off a longer price than IRISH WAR CRY, PRACTICAL JOKE, and GUNNEVERA. MADE YOU LOOK goes out for connections you can trust in a Florida three-year-old race: trainer Todd Pletcher and rider John Velazquez. He also has a running style that should suit the race and the course: he reliably settles off the pace, but does not hang so far back that he has too much to do in a race’s late stages. He has also shown class; he has two graded stakes wins already, including one at the distance. The real question about MADE YOU LOOK — and the reason he’ll be a price — is that he’s going first-time dirt in the Fountain of Youth. All six of his previous starts have come on the grass. But, he has a sharp worktab (on dirt) leading into this race. Furthermore — with as many talented three-year-olds as Pletcher has, and as live as the Florida prep series is, he sends this first-time dirt runner here? MADE YOU LOOK has made me look, and I like what I see.
The third slot was a tight decision between GUNNEVERA and PRACTICAL JOKE. Both runners have shown graded stakes class, and both should be suited by the hot pace in front of them. But, PRACTICAL JOKE comes first off the lay. Of course, Chad Brown sends runners live off of layoffs, and should have PRACTICAL JOKE as ready as he can be for this start. But, there is also the question of whether he’ll take to the Gulfstream service, and unleash his closing kick there. Whereas, GUNNEVERA has already proven he can make up ground late at Gulfstream. Last out, he was a troubled second behind IRISH WAR CRY in the Holy Bull. GUNNEVERA will need to take a step forward to turn the tables on IRISH WAR CRY, of course. But, with a cleaner trip, and second off the lay, he has a right to improve here.
#9 MADE YOU LOOK (10/1)
#8 IRISH WAR CRY (5/2)
#2 GUNNEVERA (7/2)
Longshot: #11 LOOKIN FOR EIGHT (20/1) posted a sharp maiden special weight victory on the Pegasus World Cup undercard — sharp enough to earn him a private purchase by Gary Barber, John Oxley, and friends, and a one-way ticket to the Mark Casse barn. The Fountain of Youth will be his first try against winners, as well as his first try at two turns. But, he is lightly enough race to have room to step forward from his last race. And, being by Lookin at Lucky out of a Mineshaft mare, a mile and a sixteenth should be well within him. The pace is the biggest question, as LOOKIN FOR EIGHT pressed the pace in his maiden victory. However, his debut gives some hope that he can run well from a little off the pace. He did not make the top there — the talented Battalion Runner did, and went wire to wire — but LOOKIN FOR EIGHT remained interested and finished a clear second. If he takes a step forward from his maiden victory, he could prove he belongs among the proven stakes horses he faces today.