To Honor and Serve has been near the top of almost everyone’s list of Triple Crown contenders since he swept a pair of grade II races in New York as a juvenile. On Feb. 26, the Bill Mott trainee will make his much-anticipated 3-year-old debut against a well-rounded field in the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park.
Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs but still seeking his first victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), has said that To Honor and Serve is his best chance to win the elusive race. He will get a good barometer of how well his charge fits against some of Florida's top sophomores in the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth, which drew a field of eight. Soldat, who dazzled in his season debut last month in an allowance contest, figures to be one of the main contenders.
Live Oak Plantation’s To Honor and Serve has been flawless since breaking his maiden at second asking Oct. 2 at Belmont while going two turns. The following month he went wire-to-wire in the one-mile Nashua (gr. II) and came back three weeks later to easily win the Remsen (gr. II) in similar fashion—both at Aqueduct.
The son of Bernardini—Pilfer, by Deputy Minister has spent the better part of the winter with Mott at Payson Park. He had his final tune-up for the race Feb. 20 when he drilled four furlongs in a sharp :48 1/5. The bay colt will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 7 while carrying top weight of 122 pounds.
To Honor and Serve, a $575,000 yearling, was bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm, Larry Byer, and Rancho San Miguel.
After winning the With Anticipation (gr. IIIT) and running second in the Pilgrim (gr. IIIT) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT), trainer Kiaran McLaughlin decided to start Soldat on dirt for his season debut. The War Front colt, who was runner-up in two maiden starts on dirt to begin his career, responded very well in a Jan. 21 test at Gulfstream, romping by nearly 11 lengths on the slop in a nine-furlong affair.
Soldat, owned by Harvey Clarke and partners, has had three works at Palm Meadows since that win, his last coming Feb. 19 when breezing four furlongs in :47 3/5. Alan Garcia will have the call once again and they drew the rail.
The other graded stakes winner in the field is Our Sugar Bear Stable’s Gourmet Dinner, who pulled a 20-1 upset in the Nov. 20 Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) and opened his 3-year-old season by running third in the Jan. 30 Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream. The Florida-bred son of Trippi will be traveling nine furlongs for the first time.
Trainer Steve Standridge worked Gourmet Dinner four furlongs Feb. 16 and then blew him out another three furlongs Feb. 23 (bullet :34 4/5) in preparation for his stiff test. The bay colt will also get a new rider, as Ramon Dominguez picks up the mount from Sebastian Madrid.
Shackleford, Casper's Touch, and El Grayling, the top three finishers in a Feb. 5 nine-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, will all return. Shackleford, trained by Dale Romans, drove to a 2 1/4-length victory in that race after stalking the pace and taking over on the final turn. The son of Forestry will be ridden by Jesus Castanon.
Casper’s Touch, from the barn of Ken McPeek, had a nightmare trip when running second to Shackleford, but he was closing hard at the finish despite those problems. Alex Solis picks up the the mount on the Touch Gold colt. McPeek said he hopes to give Casper's Touch two chances to make the Kentucky Derby, with the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) on April 3 the next target.
El Grayling was beaten a nose by Casper’s Touch after setting the pace. The Mike Maker trainee has already raced eight times with one win to show from his efforts.
Bowman's Causeway impressed many with his nine-furlong maiden win Feb. 11 at Gulfstream and he will jump right into the deep end against his classier rivals. Trained by Patrick Biancone for Martin Schwartz, Bowman’s Causeway got up late to win by a length in that race, which was his third try at breaking his maiden. Julien Leparoux will ride him for the first time.
Racing Aptitude, winner of the Arthur I. Appleton Juvenile Turf Stakes to end his 2010 season and sixth last out in Jan. 16 Dania Beach, completes the field.
$400,000 Fountain of Youth (gr. I, Race 10, 5:25 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Soldat (KY), A Garcia, 120, K P McLaughlin
2. Gourmet Dinner (FL), R A Dominguez, 120, S W Standridge
3. El Grayling (KY), R Maragh, 116, M J Maker
4. Casper's Touch (KY), A O Solis, 116, K G McPeek
5. Bowman's Causeway (ON), J R Leparoux, 116, P L Biancone
6. Racing Aptitude (FL), 3/C J Lezcano, 120, H M Tesher
7. To Honor and Serve (KY), J R Velazquez, 122, W I Mott
8. Shackleford (KY), J L Castanon, 116, D L Romans