Using History to Handicap the 2020 Fountain of Youth

Gambling
Promises Fulfilled after winning the 2018 Fountain of Youth.
Promises Fulfilled after winning the 2018 Fountain of Youth. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Following a brief hiatus, the road to the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve will resume on Saturday with the $400,000 Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The historic 1 1/16-mile race has long ranked as one of the most important Kentucky Derby prep events. Thirteen horses have used the Fountain of Youth as a springboard to success on the first Saturday in May, including the legendary Spectacular Bid in 1979.

Can the Fountain of Youth’s rich history help us identify the most likely winner of the 2020 renewal? It can’t hurt. A deep and competitive field is expected to enter the starting gate, so handicappers can use all the help they can get in sorting through the contenders.

To save you time, we’ve reviewed the last 10 editions of the Fountain of Youth and compiled a list of tips and trends to aid your handicapping:

Tactical Speed Wins More Often Than Not

Speed is generally an asset in the Fountain of Youth, with seven of the last 10 winners racing within two lengths of the lead after the opening half-mile. Looking for horses with tactical speed is a good place to start in handicapping the Fountain of Youth.

But as they say, pace makes the race, and when speedy front-runners head out too fast, talented closers can seal the deal with strong stretch rallies. Just look at 20213 and 2019, when sub-:46 half-mile fractions enabled Orb and Code of Honor to sweep from far behind and prevail.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

(course condition)

2019

Code of Honor

5th by 8.5 lengths (11 starters)

45.69, 1:10.42 (fast)

2018

Promises Fulfilled

1st by 1 length (9 starters)

48.39, 1:12.60 (fast)

2017

Gunnevera

7th by 9 lengths (10 starters)

47.18, 1:12.37 (fast)

2016

Mohaymen

3rd by 1.5 lengths (6 starters)

47.07, 1:11.02 (fast)

2015

Itsaknockout

4th by 2 lengths (8 starters)

47.87, 1:11.65 (fast)

2014

Wildcat Red

2nd by a head (12 starters)

46.25, 1:10.13 (fast)

2013

Orb

6th by 8 lengths (9 starters)

45.45, 1:08.85 (fast)

2012

Union Rags

4th by 2 lengths (7 starters)

48.11, 1:12.05 (fast)

2011

Soldat

1st by a head (8 starters)

47.99, 1:12.43 (fast)

2010

Eskendereya

2nd by 1 length (10 starters)

47.92, 1:12.41 (fast)

Don’t Count on the Favorite

The Fountain of Youth annually attracts some of the most popular horses on the Derby trail, but these fan favorites don’t always land in the winner’s circle. Just two betting choices (Soldat and Mohaymen) have prevailed in the last 10 editions of the Fountain of Youth, with Buddy’s Saint (1.80-1), Discreet Dancer (0.80-1), Violence (0.60-1), Top Billing (2-1), Upstart (0.90-1), Irish War Cry (1.10-1), Good Magic (0.70-1), and Hidden Scroll (1.20-1) all falling to defeat at short prices. Some of them were vulnerable while returning from layoffs. Others were overbet off impressive victories against easier company. One of them (Upstart) crossed the wire first, only to be disqualified for interference. But regardless of their excuse, they all were beaten.

That isn’t to say you should look for huge longshots in the Fountain of Youth. Eight of the last 10 winners started at 5-1 or less, with Promises Fulfilled (18-1) delivering the only truly significant upset. Just don’t automatically assume an odds-on favorite is unbeatable. More often than not, the hype horses come up short.

Shippers Rarely Steal the Prize

It’s tough to beat the locals in the Fountain of Youth. Eight of the last 10 winners prepped with a run at Gulfstream in January or February, indicating that familiarity with the track is a positive for Fountain of Youth contenders.

The two runners to defy this trend were Union Rags and Promises Fulfilled. Neither colt had run since November, but both had completed their pre-Fountain of Youth training in Florida, with Promises Fulfilled breezing at Gulfstream and Union Rags working out at nearby Palm Meadows.

Bet John Velazquez

No jockey has enjoyed more recent success in the Fountain of Youth than John Velazquez. The Hall of Fame rider has ridden in 12 of the last 13 editions of the Fountain of Youth. His results? Five wins, one second, and three thirds. Velazquez typically teams up with a live mount, and you can count on him to deliver a great ride. With a 75% in-the-money rate since 2007, any horse ridden by Velazquez is a must-use for the trifecta.

Favor Proven Graded Stakes Performers

It can be tough for inexperienced maiden and allowance winners to step up in class for the Fountain of Youth. Eight of the last 10 winners had previously contested a graded stakes race, and one of the colts to defy this trend—allowance winner Itsaknockout—did so only because graded stakes winner Upstart was disqualified from victory.

This leaves future Kentucky Derby winner Orb as the only horse in the last decade to win the Fountain of Youth in his graded stakes debut, a testament to the quality of horse required to give up experience and still land in the Fountain of Youth winner’s circle.

Conclusions

Using recent history as a guide, the expected favorites in the Fountain of Youth appear vulnerable to defeat. Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes winner Dennis’ Moment figures to start as the favorite, but the Dale Romans trainee hasn’t run since the Nov. 2 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and will be making his first start at Gulfstream Park. Chance It and As Seen On Tv boast local experience, having run 1-2 in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream last month, but both will be contesting a graded stakes race for the first time.

So why not consider Ete Indien as an upset candidate? He fired off a big effort in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 1, battling gamely to finish second behind early Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law. Ete Indien has the tactical speed to be a factor from the outset, and with his proven experience against graded stakes company at Gulfstream Park, he’s the best match for the historical profile of a typical Fountain of Youth winner.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the race!

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