Not to be outdone by the boys in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs on June 15, a quality-laden field including four grade I-winning fillies and mares take a shot at $300,000 in the 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) earlier on the card. Also on tap is the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf and the $100,000 Northern Dancer Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile.
Trainer John T. Ward Jr. is optimistic about Holy Bull (gr. III) and Fountain of Youth (gr. I) Stakes winner Booklet's chances in the $1 million, 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby following the colt's five-furlong breeze Saturday morning.
Although the Florida Derby still is a little over three weeks away, it appears as if at least seven 3-year-olds are pointing for the $1 million, grade I event at Gulfstream Park on March 16. Booklet and Harlan's Holiday, who finished one-two in the Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes, are expected to renew their budding rivalry, with a few new faces ready to join the fray.
Stop us if you've heard this one before. Booklet, a tiny colt trainer John Ward calls "a walk-on, non-scholarship type of player," spurts to an open lead, and when finally collared late by Harlan's Holiday, refuses to yield, holding off that rival by a desperate nose.
Reflecting the lack of a strong favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby, bettors have made the mutuel field a prohibitive favorite in the first day of wagering in Pool One of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
The blurry Kentucky Derby picture should begin clearing up Saturday, as a number of Triple Crown hopefuls meet to determine who makes that all-important leap forward. The grade I Fountain of Youth Stakes, which drew a field of eight, is split right down the middle, with four stakes winners facing off against four up-and-coming stars. And in supporting allowance races, two promising colts lock horns in a prep for the Florida Derby, and a former Coolmore colt makes his U.S. debut.
Several of the top-name 3-year-olds worked over the Gulfstream track Saturday morning, headed by Remsen Stakes winner Saarland, whose five-furlong breeze in 1:02 from the gate may have earned him a berth in next Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Trainer Bob Baffert sent out a trio of 3-year-olds coming off stakes wins for four-furlong works at Santa Anita Wednesday, including Golden Gate Derby (gr. III) winner Danthebluegrassman. All three completed their assignments in :48 3/5 on a fast track.
Willmott Stables' Stephentown, an impressive allowance winner at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday, will take a major step up in class when he makes his next appearance in the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 16.