The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, race 11 on a 12-race card with an approximate post time of 5:35 p.m. EST, is worth a total of 85 points for 3-year-olds hoping to make the Kentucky Derby field, with 50 points going to the winner, 20 to second, 10 to third, and five for fourth.
The Fountain of Youth will be the sophomore debut for Violence, undefeated in three starts for Black Rock Thoroughbreds including the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack last Nov. 4. The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Medaglia d'Oro is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line and has been working steadily at Palm Meadows Training Center leading up to his first start of 2013; he turned in his final pre-race move going five furlongs in 1:00.36 on Feb. 17.
"We got him back here to Palm Meadows right after the CashCall," Pletcher remarked. "He's done really well so far and everything has gone according to plan while we've focused on getting him ready for the Fountain of Youth. The main thing in choosing to run him in the CashCall was the timing and the fact that Hollywood, although it is a synthetic track, plays more like dirt than any of the other synthetics."
Regular rider Javier Castellano will be aboard Violence, who drew post three and carries top weight of 122 pounds. As far as strategy goes, Pletcher said, "He's very tractable and can keep close to the pace if he needs to. He's very versatile. We'll see how it plays out with Majestic Hussar (possibly on lead) and how fast he goes, but he (Violence) won't let anybody sneak away from him too far."
While Violence is expected to be a clear favorite in the Fountain of Youth, the rest of the field appears to be wide-open. A familiar name is He's Had Enough, who ran fifth in the CashCall after just missing the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) by a head to eventual 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby, then came back to finish third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) behind Flashback and Den's Legacy.
Jockey Mario Guiterrez will be on hand from California to ride the son of Tapit, who drew post nine and was cross-entered in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans. According to O'Neill, the Reddam Racing runner will contest the stakes race in Florida.
Newton Anner Stud and partners' Falling Sky, winner of the Feb. 2 Sam Davis by a hard-fought wire-to-wire neck off a 1 1/4-length allowance score sprinting at Gulfstream, could step it up in this event. The son of Lion Heart had made two previous starts, winning his debut at Churchill Downs by four lengths on Nov. 1 and finishing fourth in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 1.
Hardaway Stable's Speak Logistics and Team Valor International's Cerro are two others who merit consideration.
Speak Logistics is the 'other' 3-year-old in trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.'s barn this season as he has Trilogy Stable and wife Laurie's Gulfstream Park Derby and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner Itsmyluckyday sitting this race out while preparing for the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) on March 30. Jockey Joel Rosario gets aboard Speak Logistics, winner of the In Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes last October.
In one race since a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the son of High Cotton finished fourth in the Sam Davis.
"He got shut off as he was making his move on the inside in the upper stretch," said Plesa. "I thought he was going to get right on through, but it closed up on him. The timing is right for this to be his next race. We gave him five weeks on a farm in Ocala after the Breeders' Cup."
Cerro, an Irish-bred son of Mr. Greeley who began his career on turf in Italy, defeated a solid group in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream Jan. 26. Trainer Graham Motion originally planned to send Cerro to the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) March 3 with the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park March 23 to follow, but after the Gulfstream dirt win, the Fountain of Youth entered the picture.
"I'd say partly because we saw so many of these horses skipping it," Motion said of why the Fountain of Youth became an option. "You also have to bear in mind, when you start thinking about the points and all that, you don't want to put your eggs in one basket and wait for the one race in Kentucky."
The Palm Beach is not included in the new Churchill Downs points system for entry in the Kentucky Derby.
"It just seems logical to take a shot in this race if things continue to go well," Motion said. "We'll see how he does. I wish it was a mile and an eighth. It's probably the only thing I would change, only because he's already been a mile and an eighth."
Two other contenders hoping to earn a place on the 'Derby Trail' are Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable's Kentucky homebred Orb for trainer Shug McGaughey and Joseph Witek's Majestic Hussar, trained by Eddie Kenneally.
Orb, by Malibu Moon, makes his stakes debut after a one-length 'other than' allowance victory going 1 1/8 miles over the track on Jan. 26 after four starts in New York as a 2-year-old. Majestic Hussar makes his first start around two turns to see if he stays after a pair of very good sprint races at the current meet.
The Kentucky homebred by Majestic Warrior won his debut at Saratoga last summer and finished seventh in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. II), but came back with a good second to Falling Sky in a Dec. 15 allowance and followed with a 2 1/2-length allowance tally over favored Palace Malice on Jan. 19.