Jacks or Better Farm's unbeaten Awesome Banner was the first to go, covering the distance in 1:00.03 over a fast main track. The Florida-bred son of Awesome of Course returned from a six-month hiatus to romp in the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 2, then put up another sparkling performance four weeks later in the Swale Stakes (gr. II). The Fountain of Youth will mark the first start beyond seven furlongs for the Stanley Gold trainee.
Frank L. Jones Jr. and William Pacella's Cherry Wine went out a bit later in the morning for his drill and zipped through the five-eighths in :59.31 for trainer Dale Romans. An impressive maiden winner in Kentucky in November, the gray son of Paddy O'Prado stamped himself as a top-notch prospect when he drew off to a six-length success over Battery in a Gulfstream allowance Jan. 9.
"He went very well," Romans said. "He went easy. It looked like he was going slower and he went in :59 1/5. He did it right and galloped out good, came back good."
At first, Romans penciled in the Lambolm South Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at the end of January for Cherry Wine's stakes debut, but opted to give the 3-year-old colt a bit more time.
"We thought about going in the Holy Bull originally, but it was just going to be too many races going into the Derby if we think he's a true contender," Romans explained. "So we decided to skip and run in (the Fountain of Youth) and the Florida Derby. If he gets enough points and he looks like he fits, we'll go (to Kentucky)."
The Lambholm South Holy Bull hero, unbeaten Mohaymen , is expected to be the Fountain of Youth favorite. Gulfstream's series for Triple Crown-caliber 3-year-olds will conclude with the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) April 2.