Saturday’s $300,000, Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park is the last major stepping stone to the Florida Derby on March 27. The Fountain of Youth also awards 50 important Road to the Kentucky Derby points to the winner. Leading the field of 10 is Greatest Honour, who won the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes impressively last month over this track. Holy Bull runner-up Tarantino, who has never been worse than second in four races, and third-place finisher Prime Factor, who will be making only the third start of his career, will try to improve enough to turn the tables on Greatest Honour.
Drain the Clock and King’s Ovation finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade 3 Claiborne Farm Swale Stakes, a seven-furlong race at Gulfstream on the same day as the Holy Bull, and they will try to run as well while trying two turns for the first time. Fire at Will returns to the races for this first start as a 3-year-old and following nearly four months away from the races, but he won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America in his final start of 2020 and has the class to compete if ready. Sososubtle was an impressive 4 ¼-length winner of a maiden race last month and takes a big step up in class. Papetu and Jirafales finished far back while fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Holy Bull and appear to have their work cut out for them. Tiz Tact Toe is still a maiden and winless in three races and rounds out the field.
Greatest Honour was well regarded by bettors as the second choice in the Holy Bull Stakes last month and rewarded his backers with a visually impressive win by almost six lengths. Rallying from seventh in the early stages, Greatest Honour swept past his rivals on the far turn while four paths wide to lead by a length in the stretch before drawing off with ease. Bringing his record to a perfect two-for-two at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Fountain of Youth, Greatest Honour earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure. That was not his best figure, but the 106 figure Greatest Honour earned in his race before the Holy Bull – another win at Gulfstream – is the best figure earned by any horse in the field. The only other horse in the field to have broken the 100 threshold is Fire At Will, who earned a 105 figure winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year. Considering how easily Greatest Honour won the Holy Bull, I think he could have run faster and earned a higher figure if needed and that is why he is the one to beat in this year’s Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Drain the Clock appears to be on a pattern that, if continued, would allow him to run well enough to win the Fountain of Youth. On the same Jan. 30 date of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, Drain the Clock put in a visually impressive 6 ¼-length victory in geared down fashion, good for a 95 figure. Four weeks prior to that, Drain the Clock earned an 88 figure winning the Limehouse Stakes, and if he can improve about the same seven points as he did in the Swale, Drain the Clock could run as well as Greatest Honour is expected to run. Excluding his effort last November – he lost his jockey when a piece of equipment broke – Drain the Clock is a perfect four-for-four in his career. Although the Fountain of Youth will be his first attempt racing at two turns, the fact that he draws the ground-saving rail and has shown the ability to stalk the pacesetter in second or third before winning suggests no matter how the early pace unfolds, Drain the Clock should have no problem being a very strong contender in this race.
Tarantino was no match for Greatest Honour when second and beaten 5 ¾ lengths in the Holy Bull, but he ran very well nevertheless. He earned a career-best 94 figure in his first race on dirt after three races on grass to start his career, and Tarantino was nearly four lengths clear of the third-place horse in a field of nine. Jockey Edgard Zayas, who was aboard for the Holy Bull, gets off to ride Drain the Clock on Saturday, but securing Tyler Gaffalione as a replacement is a plus. Tarantino makes his third start off of a layoff, which could result in more improvement, and he also makes his second start on dirt after running very well in his debut. There is every reason to believe Tarantino can take another step forward on his quest to be a contender as we move towards the Florida Derby next month and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in 10 weeks.
Fire At Will would certainly be a top contender for me if he were not coming back from nearly four months off and trying to go two turns on dirt for the first time against horses which have run well and much more recently. Fire at Will finished sixth in his career debut last summer and then reeled off three straight wins, all in stakes. During that streak, he improved from an 80 figure, to 96, and then to 105 when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in a field of 14. One of the wins came on a sloppy dirt track (in a race scheduled for turf) so it appears he can run on the surface just fine and there’s no doubt he can run this far as he won the Pilgrim Stakes on turf at the distance. Still, it’s a doubly big question to ask a horse to run well enough to win off this long of a layoff and in a two-turn race at this level, and as such I’ll be taking a stand against Fire At Will in this situation.
The rest of the field (each member of which has the ability to compete effectively in this race) with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is King’s Ovation (83), Jirafales (76), Papetu (89), Prime Factor (88), Sososubtle (93) and Tiz Tact Toe (78).
Win Contenders, in probability order:
Drain the Clock