The sample size is small, but it's enough to serve as the authoritative measuring stick.
Three starts, one massive victory, and a year-end honor to boot. Such is the résumé of Good Magic, the reigning juvenile male champion who—by extension—is the one most of his classmates must go through if they want some instant street credibility on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The last time the son of Curlin was in a race, he finished 4 1/4 lengths in front in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 4. The first read on how he has progressed comes March 3 when he and nine rivals break from the gate in the $400,000 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Because he only has one win on his chart, there is still the sense of wanting to see it again from Good Magic before ditching the pro tem label in regards to his divisional leadership.
Because of how much he moved forward in short order last fall, there is also the belief that if his competition can run with or best him now, it will speak volumes about their own development.
"Any time you go from 2 to 3 ... the boys start to become men and you have to see it," said trainer Ian Wilkes, who will saddle stakes winner Gotta Go in the Fountain of Youth. "No matter whether you are the champion or not, you have to go out and prove it.
"And we've got to find out where we belong."
There will be an abundance of litmus tests being conducted when the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth takes place Saturday, with Good Magic's results being the most scrutinized. Stonestreet Stables and e Five Racing's champion colt has reportedly looked a picture in his morning preparations for his seasonal bow and will face a number of salty contenders wanting to test first-hand how that sophomore transition is going.
The Chad Brown-trained runner is already a prime example of how quickly these babies can change from month to month. While his first two starts were solid—a runner-up effort going 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga Race Course last August followed by a second-place finish in the Oct. 7 Champagne Stakes (G1)—his Breeders' Cup outing where he rated just off the pace before splitting rivals and leaving the likes of Solomini and multiple grade 1 winner Bolt d'Oro in his wake showcased an emphatic level of improvement.
Since returning to the work tab at Palm Meadows Training Center Jan. 21, Good Magic has been rock-steady in his moves, especially while breezing with the older Economic Model. In most of those works, it was the latter who had to work to keep up with his young stablemate—a flattering notion considering Economic Model just captured the Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) Feb. 24.
"Everyone tells me the Curlins get better with age, and we keep seeing it with him," Bob Edwards of e Five Racing said of Good Magic. "When we first got him, we had another horse on the farm that looked the part, that looked like that two-turn monster horse. And this horse looked not as formidable. Then he just kept getting better and longer ... he's such an efficient mover.
"The way his motion carries, it's kind of like watching a really good basketball player. They're so fluid it makes it look like they're in slow motion, but they're actually quicker than their competitors. That's how he is. He reminds me of that efficient mover who is really fast. Every week he just seems to get better."
Making a statement on how much better he is would be the ideal scenario for Good Magic this weekend. Making sure the endgame as it relates to May 5 stays on track, however, is the main goal.
With his connections planning just two prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), getting enough foundation out of Saturday's run is paramount.
"It's all about opportunity, and we don't want to leave anything behind," Edwards said. "We want the horse to get better in the next race and really better in that third race (the Kentucky Derby). If the opportunity presents itself for (jockey) Jose (Ortiz) to take the win, great. But at the end of the day, we want the cake, not the icing. And I think as a team, we're all on board with that.
"We'd love to win and we hope to win, but we don't want to win at the expense of moving forward."
For as much of a class edge as Good Magic brings, one advantage some of his challengers have is they already have a race under their belts this year.
Courtlandt Farms' homebred Strike Power will be making just his third career start Saturday, but he has shown brilliance. The Mark Hennig-trained son of Speightstown was an eight-length winner in gate-to-wire fashion when he debuted at Gulfstream Park Dec. 23 and equally impressive in his first graded stakes try, a front-running 2 3/4-length victory in the Feb. 3 Swale Stakes (G3).
The Fountain of Youth will mark the first try beyond sprint distances for Strike Power, but Hennig said the colt's handiness has given him confidence a route of ground is within his reach.
"He's a very relaxed horse, and he has a great mind on him," Hennig said. "If you worked him with a horse that wanted to go in :50 or even work him by himself, he's happy to go :49, :50. If you look at his work the other day, I had him about five-six lengths behind a pretty nice older horse, and he dealt with it just fine. He stayed back there from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole, and I don't think he went by that horse until the eighth pole, but he went by relatively easy.
"If he can't do it, he's got a great career ahead of him sprinting. But there is no indication on his part that he wouldn't settle and do whatever he needed to do."
Gotta Go finished second to Strike Power in the Swale Stakes in his first start since a debacle of a run in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) where he got caught up in a first-turn incident that saw a horse clip heels and lose its rider. The son of Shanghai Bobby won two of his first three starts, including the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October.
"He's moved forward in his training, and we're very happy with him," Wilkes said. "Does he have to win it to keep going forward (on the Kentucky Derby trail)? No. But he needs to run big, he needs to run good."