A key prep for the March 20 Florida Derby (gr. I), the Fountain of Youth distance was moved up to nine furlongs this year after being run at one mile in 2009 when Quality Road romped by more than four lengths. The feature is one of four graded stakes on a Gulfstream card that also includes the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs.
With two and half months remaining until the first leg of the Triple Crown, Buddy’s Saint is one of the favorites for Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) thanks to decisive victories in a pair of graded stakes at Aqueduct as a juvenile—a 12-length romp in the Nashua (gr. II) and a 4 3/4-length score in the Remsen (gr. II). The son of Saint Liam—Tuzia, by Blushing John, was moved down to South Florida this winter and has been working steadily at Gulfstream for his 3-year-old debut. His last breeze came on Feb. 14 when he was clocked going six furlongs in 1:13.40.
“He worked really good, but didn't go super fast,” said trainer Bruce Levine. “He went 13 and change and I was really happy with it; just what I was looking for. He galloped out really good in 27 (seven furlongs). It wasn't super fast, but he couldn't work any better. We’re on schedule.”
Bred in Kentucky by Morton Fink and Roy Gottlieb, Buddy’s Saint was a $100,000 Keeneland September 2008 yearling sale purchase. Regular rider Jose Lezcano will keep the mount as part of a 122-pound impost. They will break from post 2.
Buddy’s Saint will have plenty of competition in the Fountain of Youth and one of his biggest threats will come from Jacks or Better Farm and Robert LaPenta’s Jackson Bend, who has produced a 5-2-0 record from seven starts. One of those runner-up finishes came last out in the one-mile Holy Bull (gr. III) Jan. 23 when the Hear No Evil colt missed by less than a length to Winslow Homer. Now in the barn of Nick Zito, Jackson Bend turned in a bullet work in preparation for the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 13 at Palm Meadows, getting four furlongs in :47 flat.
As a 2-year-old, Jackson Bend swept the Florida Stallion Stakes Series at Calder while being trained by Stanley Gold. Jeremy Rose will have the mount once again.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has a pair of capable starters entered, led by Zayat Stables’ Eskendereya, a wire-to-wire winner over a solid group of allowance horses Jan. 7 at Gulfstream. The son of Giant's Causeway made a name for himself last fall at Belmont Park when he won the ‘off-the-turf’ Pilgrim Stakes by more than seven lengths. He was a non-factor in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface in November when finishing ninth after a troubled trip.
“I thought we got exactly what we were looking for in that allowance race,” Pletcher said. “It was good effort over a track he likes. He’s been training well since and we think he’ll like going a mile and an eighth.”
Pletcher assigned the mount to first-call rider John Velazquez. Eskendereya will break from post 8.
Pletcher’s other starter is Dogwood Stable’s Aikenite, the sixth-place finisher in the Holy Bull after being uncharacteristically close to the pace early on. The Yes It's True colt, who placed in both the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) at Saratoga and Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland as a 2-year-old, and was also fifth in the BC Juvenile, will have Alan Garcia in the irons. Pletcher seemed more hopeful than confident that Aikenite would rebound.
“We’re hoping he’ll improve and the stretch out to two turns will help him,” Pletcher said. “He might have been a little too involved early on (in the Holy Bull). We’d like to see him settle and make one good run.”
Like Buddy’s Saint, Flying Zee Stable’s and partners’ Pulsion will make his anticipated 3-year-old debut for trainer Patrick Biancone. Pulsion, runner-up in the Norfolk (gr. I) and 11th in the BC Juvenile, was entered in the Holy Bull but had to be scratched after developing mucus in his lungs. The Florida-bred son of Include will be ridden by Mike Smith.
Zito’s other starter will be Robert LaPenta’s Ice Box, an improving Pulpit colt who won a 1 1/8-mile allowance over the same strip on Jan. 18. Second by a half-length in that race was Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, who will run for trainer Wesley Ward with jockey Julien Leparoux aboard.
$250,000 Fountain of Youth (gr. II, Race 10, 5:40 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Aikenite (FL), A Garcia, 116, T A Pletcher
2. Buddy's Saint (KY), J Lezcano, 122, B N Levine
3. Pulsion (FL), M E Smith, 116, P L Biancone
4. Pleasant Prince (FL), J R Leparoux, 116, W A Ward
5. Jackson Bend (FL), J Rose, 120, N P Zito
6. Prince Will I Am (KY), P Lopez, 116, M Nihei
7. Positive Split (FL), E S Prado, 116, K G McPeek
8. Eskendereya (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, T A Pletcher
9. Lost Aptitude (KY), R Maragh, 118, D L Romans
10. Ice Box (KY), J Bravo, 116, N P Zito