Trainer Ian Wilkes

Trainer Ian Wilkes

Anne M. Eberhardt

Wilkes Thinks Blinkers Key for Neck 'n Neck

Colt showed a lack of cooperation in Sam F. Davis Stakes last time out.

Neck 'n Neck, reluctant to rally between horses in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) three weeks earlier, will get blinkers for the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II) Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park.

“He didn’t help the rider (Jose Lezcano). He wouldn’t go between horses. When Jose asked him to go between horses, he was reluctant to do that,” trainer Ian Wilkes said a day before the big Neck 'n Neck's biggest test. “He was not focusing on what he’s supposed to be doing. You can’t make any mistakes to beat good horses.”

Forced to go extremely wide as a result in Tampa Bay's Sam Davis Feb. 4, Neck 'n Neck wound up fifth, though just 2 3/4 lengths behind the victorious Battle Hardened.

Wilkes worked Steven Miles Jr.'s homebred Flower Alley colt in blinkers at Palm Meadows Training Center and was encouraged by the results. The trainer reasons that better focus will be required for the dark bay to have any chance against the likes of top-rated Algorithms , Discreet Dancer, and Union Rags .

“He’s a big strong colt. We need to find out if he can run with these horses. These are the best horses in the country. If he can run with them, then we know we belong,” Wilkes said. “Off that last race, we got no indication. That’s why I said, ‘Let’s go here; let’s find out where we are.’ After the race, I can talk with the owner and say, ‘OK, we need a little more time or a little more conservative route,’ or ‘we can handle these boys. Let’s keep on proceeding.’”

Neck 'n Neck, 15-1 on the morning line, drew the rail for the Fountain of Youth and will have Lezcano aboard for the return try.

Neck ‘n Neck broke his maiden around two turns at Churchill Downs last November, his only win from six career starts. He began the year with an encouraging runner-up finish behind Discreet Dancer in an allowance race Jan. 7 at Gulfstream, leading Wilkes to try him in the Sam Davis.

While his rail position could be viewed as a positive considering the short run to the first turn in the 1 1/16-mile stakes, Wilkes would have preferred that his colt drew further outside.

“I would have liked the three or four hole. That would give you more options than the rail,” Wilkes said. “But that’s what we’ve been dealt, so we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt.”