It was only a few months ago that many believed Soldat was a colt whose future was mainly on turf. But the son of War Front has blossomed into a prominent candidate for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), especially if he can win the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) Feb. 26 at Gulfstream.
Based at Palm Meadows with Kiaran McLaughlin, Soldat romped to victory by more than 10 lengths in an allowance race over a sloppy Gulfstream surface on Jan. 21, putting him on an ideal schedule to make his way to Churchill Downs on May 7. He will get his biggest test on Saturday.
“I like to run my horses every five weeks or so, so it’s a perfect program down here,” McLaughlin said. “From where he won to this race is five weeks. From this race to the Florida Derby (gr. I, April 3) is five weeks and then it five weeks out to the Kentucky Derby. So it’s a perfect program for us.”
Soldat’s solid showings in a trio of graded turf stakes last year has afforded his trainer the luxury to set a firm program for his winter campaign, buoyed by the knowledge that his colt already has sufficient graded-stakes earnings ($270,000) to clinch a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s a different situation. So often, you’re chasing graded earnings,” said McLaughlin. “We’re already there. We have enough.”
Not that McLaughlin would be moved to duck too many horses with a colt as talented as Soldat, who is owned by Harvey Clarke and partners.
The Kentucky-bred colt, who has handled himself well against the best young turf horses, will receive his toughest main-track test in the Fountain of Youth, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles. Although he easily handled entry-level allowance runners at that distance, his main competitor, To Honor and Serve, has won a pair of grade II stakes, the Nashua and Remsen at Aqueduct last year. Gourmet Dinner, who finished third in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream last time out, also brings strong stakes experience into the Fountain of Youth, having captured the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) and a pair of Florida Stallion stakes.
“To Honor and Serve is a very nice horse, a beautiful son of Bernardini who’s in good hands with Bill Mott. He’s the horse to beat for sure.” McLaughlin said. “Gourmet Dinner’s a nice horse who was third behind Dialed In in the Holy Bull. You got to respect both of them.”
Assuming that sunny weather prevails, the Fountain of Youth will offer Soldat the opportunity to run on a fast main track for the first time. In addition to his recent score in slop, he finished second in the first two starts of his career on off tracks at Belmont Park and Saratoga, before being switch to turf.
“He’s run on dirt three times and has a first and two seconds, so he’s doing well,” McLaughlin said.
Soldat’s broke his maiden on turf in the With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIIT)) at Saratoga and finished his juvenile season with runner-up finishes in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs.
“It’s not to say he won’t ever go back to turf,” McLaughlin said, “but I hope it’s not until next year.”