Eskendereya shook off Jackson Bend rounding the final turn of the $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park and romped home by 8 1/2 lengths under John Velazquez to register his first graded stakes win Feb. 20 (VIDEO).
Buddy's Saint, the 9-5 favorite among 10 rivals in the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds, left his race on the first turn when he jostled with Aikenite while attempting to advance through an opening at the rail for jockey Jose Lezcano.
Zayat Stables' Eskendereya, a disappointment in last fall's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) when he finished ninth at Santa Anita, is two-for-two in 2010 for trainer Todd Pletcher. The good-looking son of Giant's Causeway --Aldebaran Light (by Seattle Slew) won a one-turn mile allowance race Jan. 7 at Gulfstream by 1 1/4 lengths.
The Fountain of Youth is the major tune-up for the $750,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) on March 20. Pletcher said afterward that he would expect to run Eskendereya in that race.
“You’ve got to be excited when they perform like that in these kind of races at this time of year," Pletcher said. "I was particularly pleased with the way he finished. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten to the bottom of him.
"He’s had two wins over the track here now, so the Florida Derby would seem logical for him, but we will consider all the options.”
Eskendereya settled just off the pacesetter Lost Aptitude, who took the lead soon after the start from Aikenite and set a solid pace for the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds. Eskendereya was well clear off the rail as the field swung into the first turn, where Buddy's Saint and Aikenite bumped a couple of times, with Buddy's Saint losing quite a bit of ground.
“The other horses came in like nothing (on the first turn)," Lezcano said of his trip aboard Buddy's Saint. "I was already in a spot, and they came in and killed my horse; put him into the rail. He came back a little bit to run, but I was out of the race by then because of what happened.”
Lost Aptitude carved fractions of :23.72, :47.92 and 1:12.41 before he abruptly gave way near the three-furlong mark, with Eskendereya taking over. Second choice Jackson Bend, stalking just off the leaders, attempted to cling to Eskendereya rounding the sweeping final turn, but Eskendereya took control when asked for something leaving the quarter pole. He was never challenged in the lane while striding out impressively.
The final time was 1:48.87 over a fast track.
“I didn’t want to take too good a hold of him out of the gate, and I got to a point early on the backstretch where I started to move forward with him," Velazquez said. "I was hoping that I didn’t take too much out of him. Obviously I didn’t, because he went on, and did it very well.
"It was great feeling when he kicked in and accelerated away from them. He galloped out really well, and I hope he can learn to relax just a bit more in the first part of the race. If he does, I don’t think he’ll have any trouble going further.”
Jackson Bend, ridden by Jeremy Rose, held second by three-quarters of a length, with Aikenite and Alan Garcia third.
“My horse ran his heart out," Rose said.
Sanford Robertson bred Eskendereya in Kentucky. The chestnut colt broke his maiden in his second start last year when he romped to a 7 1/4-length victory in the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes over good ground at Belmont Park Oct 4. He ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile a month later, but was never a factor after taking up in the first turn at odds of 12-1. He wound up more than six lengths behind the victorious Vale of York.
"We threw a lot at him in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile) in just his third start and first on synthetic," Pletcher said. "In the first turn I knew he had no chance. He was jostled badly and sandwiched between horses. At one point I don’t think any of his feet were touching the ground."
Eskendereya, who figures to move way up in the Kentucky Derby rankings, has now won three of five races with one second. He more than doubled his career earnings to $275,700 with the winning purse of $150,000.
Sent off as the third choice, Eskendereya paid $9.80, $4.20 and $3 while topping a $35.20 exacta. Jackson Bend, second in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream to begin his season Jan. 23 for trainer Nick Zito, returned $3.60 and $2.10. Aikenite, also from the Pletcher stable, was $3.60 to show.
It was one length to Pleasant Prince in fourth. He was followed by Ice Box , Pulsion, Positive Split, Prince Will I Am, the troubled Buddy's Saint and Lost Aptitude.