HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Greetings from Hallandale Beach, where they run the G2 Fountain of Youth on Saturday, headed by Irish War Cry, winner of last month’s Holy Bull, and Practical Joke, last year’s Hopeful and Champagne winner.
Derby points are handed out on a 50-20-10-5 point basis to the top four finishers. The winner and runner-up will be virtually assured of a spot in the Derby starting gate.
This race drew 11 but could scratch down to nine. With McCraken’s ankle strain forcing him to skip next Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby, two trainers are considering skipping this race to run in an easier spot there for the same amount of Derby points.
“He worked yesterday, he worked great. This morning he just had a slight strain,” [trainer Ian] Wilkes said. “I just feel like … the horse comes first. And I don’t want to come back and work him next week for the Tampa Bay Derby. If I have to miss a race, I would rather miss this one, take care of the horse, get him right and run him in the Blue Grass.”
Obviously, that’s not ideal, but hopefully they can get him back on track and well in time for the Blue Grass in April.
Now, onto the Fountain of Youth…
Even if the field of 11 scratches down to nine, it still might be the strongest Derby prep race run thus far this year. Let’s take a look at the field.
1 – Huracan Americo (50-1) – He’s 1-2, breaking his maiden with a Grade 1 win. Sounds promising! However, both wins were in Peru and he has been off since November and would be a huge upset.
2 – Gunnavera (7-2) – We liked his second place finish in the Holy Bull. Here’s what we wrote:
Gunnavera finished second and ran very well. He was saving ground around the far turn when he had to steady in tight, swung out wide, and was moving well late. Steadying definitely cost him at least a length, had he gotten through, maybe he could have won – he certainly should have been closer. Either way, it was a promising effort for a horse whose previous best race came on the Delta Downs 6-furlong bullring. We were dubious of his form, but he ran fine here.
He’s drawn well and there’s more pace in this race too.
3 – Quinientos (50-1) – He comes out of a fourth place finish in a restricted stakes race on turf last month and his best Beyer is a 73. He’d also be a huge upset.
4 – Talk Logistics (20-1) – We took a shot with him last time off a good effort in the January 7th Mucho Macho Man, but it turned out that was just a weaker race. In the Holy Bull, he stalked the moderate pace and had nothing from there, dropping back. He just looks a bit overmatched against these.
5 – Beasley (6-1) – He ran well last time against top Pletcher runner Battalion Runner, who is skipping this race for the Florida Derby. In that race, Beasley set the pace and was hounded by Battalion Runner into the lane, and maybe would have won if he was on the outside, while Battalion Runner was able to keep him in tight on the rail. This Mark Hennig trainee has some speed to inject into this race, but as noted above, it seems as if he is going to bypass this one for the Tampa Bay Derby next week. If he runs here, he’d have to stalk the pace and hold off the closers, not an easy task, but he’s got ability.
6 – Practical Joke (3-1) – He makes his first start of the year for trainer Chad Brown after running third in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. Practical Joke broke his maiden on Whitney Day at Saratoga before returning with wins in the Hopeful and Champagne. He seems to be training very well for his return as well. His wins were all at one-turn and didn’t really threaten in the Breeders Cup, his lone two-turn race, though that was a fast race and he was still 4 1/4 clear of the fourth horse. The biggest question is two-turns, but I don’t see why he shouldn’t be able to get this distance. The issue is the price, and I think if he’s the second choice, Gunnavera is the better bet.
7 – Three Rules (12-1) – I thought he ran fine in the Swale, making the big wide run and he was just out-gamed by Favorable Outcome, a very promising sprinter for the same connections as Practical Joke. He has a two-turn win here but over a very weak field in October, and was 10 lengths behind Practical Joke when they met in the Breeders Cup. He should be a good price but I think he’ll have a tough time against this quality field.
8 – Irish War Cry (5-2) – This Jersey-bred won the Holy Bull setting a very moderate pace and wiring the field. He will have to stalk the pace in this race (we’ll get to Takaful in a moment), which is probably a good thing – stalking the pace going two-turns is something he’ll need to do moving forward. I don’t have a knock on him – he’s improved in every start for a tremendous trainer (Graham Motion), but as the favorite, off a very easy trip, we’ll try someone else on top (but as a Jersey-bred, we’ll be rooting for him).
9 – Made You Look (10-1) – He tries dirt for trainer Todd Pletcher. He’s been a useful turf horse and has run twice this year, winning the Dania Beach and running third with legitimate trouble in the Kitten’s Joy (he was blocked in the stretch and compromised by a slow pace). The question is dirt, which is should be able to handle – his second dam is Serena’s Song. Plus, his pace-pressing style should fit the race. He’s 10-1 on the morning line and we’ll see if you get that with his connections (Pletcher and John Velazquez), but he’ll be in our play.
10 – Takaful (12-1) – He’s the wild card in this race. This Shadwell speed-ball for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was ultra-impressive wiring his debut field going 6.5 furlongs in November before fading to third setting a fast pace in the Remsen on Thanksgiving weekend (at 9 furlongs). He was bad in the Jerome (on a muddy track) on January 2nd, but so bad (7th beaten 39 lengths) that something must have gone wrong behind him being unable to handle two turns. That he shows up here could well mean that they think whatever went wrong in the Jerome has been fixed. You could make the case that he ran well in the Remsen (fast pace, stretching from 6.5 to 9 furlongs in his second start). Still, we have this nagging feeling that he is a one-turn horse. One thing he does in this race is ensure a solid pace. If he’s still up top at the finish, we won’t be totally shocked, but we probably won’t be cashing too many tickets.
11 – Lookin for Eight (20-1) – He was a private purchase for owners Gary Barber and John Oxley with trainer Mark Casse after a 3 length maiden win on the Pegasus undercard January 28th. But he’s drawn very poorly here and will have to really jump up to win. He might scratch and go to Tampa (that’s what we would do if it were up to us), but if he stays here, he seems up against it.
The Pace – It should be pretty solid. Takaful is going to go. Irish War Cry won’t be too far off. Three Rules will be up close pressing him as well. If they run here, Beasley and Lookin for Eight won’t be too far off of the pace either.
Analysis – Our top pick is Gunnavera. We liked his last race and this one sets up for him much better, with the expected quicker pace. Irish War Cry might trip out in here, and he’s obviously talented, and Made You Look can hit the board at a good price if he handles dirt.
The Play – We’ll bet Gunnavera to win if he’s at least 7-2 and play him in exactas with Irish War Cry and Made You Look, sprinkling in Practical Joke and Takaful in a few exactas and trifectas.