Mohaymen (center, blue and white jockey silks) surged to the front entering the stretch and streaked to his fifth win in as many starts. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Undefeated Mohaymen set the stage for arguably one of the most dramatic prep races in decades when he rolled to 2 1/4- length victory in the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Talk turned to the $1-million, Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 2 and a clash with unbeaten West Coast star Nyquist, winner of the 2015 Sentient Het Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the champion 2-year-old male, minutes after Mohaymen patiently raced in midpack and easily ran past Zulu for his fifth victory in as many starts.
Kiaran McLaughlin, a native of Lexington, Ky., who appears to have the best shot at a Kentucky Derby triumph of his accomplished career with Mohaymen, emphasized that he remains committed to the Florida path he chose long ago.
“We’re here and we’re pointing that way and we’re not altering our plan,” McLaughlin said.
Rick Nichols, who oversees Mohaymen as the U.S. racing manager for Shadwell Stables, echoed McLaughlin’s commitment to the Florida Derby.
“It would be fun. It would be exciting. We would welcome the challenge,” he said. “We’re arguably the best on the East Coast. He’s arguably the best on the West Coast.”
Doug O’Neill, Nyquist’s trainer, has been equally intent on reaching the Kentucky Derby by way of Florida. He has one million reasons for that. A $1-million bonus is there for the taking if Fasig-Tipton Florida sale graduate Nyquist can win the Florida Derby. He is eligible for the bonus because he was purchased by Paul Reddam as a 2-year-old at a Fasig-Tipton sale last March. The incentive is being offered for the first time to enhance the appeal of the Flordia Derby compared with other rich prep races.
“I hope they change their minds,” McLaughlin said jokingly. “I’m not really looking forward to facing him. He’s a very talented horse and so are we. But this is home for us.”
Although McLaughlin’s primary base is in New York, Mohaymen has benefitted from his time at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., working steadily and sometimes sensationally there.
“We don’t want any changes,” McLaughlin said. “He’s great mentally. He’s not getting hot and bothered. He’s training great.”
Mohaymen is a gray or roan son of Tapit who was purchased by Shadwell for $2.2-million at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2014. Racing history is filled with expensive flops. Mohaymen clearly has class to accompany regal bloodlines.
When Zulu became unglued as he neared the starting gate for the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, Mohaymen stood still as a statue beneath jockey Junior Alvarado and patiently waited his turn to enter outside post six in a small, but select field that featured two other undefeated starters, Zulu and Awesome Banner.
Once the starting gate snapped open, Mohaymen withstood early jostling around the first turn while Awesome Banner and Zulu, both venturing beyond seven furlongs for the first time, displayed their expected early speed in running first and second.
“He settled nice for me,” Alvarado said. “By the five-eighths pole, he started to get into a nice rhythm, that gear, and he started pulling on me, asking me for the next step.”
When Alvarado gave Mohaymen his cue, he blew past Zulu and widened his margin with every powerful stride until Alvarado, recognizing the massive challenge that awaits, eased him before they crossed the finish line. He covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.84 and returned $2.80 for a $2 win wager as the overwhelming favorite.
“Each race, he improves even more and proves that he has everything that a rider would want in a horse to point to those big races,” Alvarado said.
2016 FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
Alvarado has been aboard since Mohaymen debuted with a half-length victory last Sept. 19 at Belmont Park before completing his 2-year-old season with successes in the Nashau and Remsen Stakes, a pair of Grade 2 races at Aqueduct.
Fellowship finished four lengths behind Zulu in third. Awesome Speed, Awesome Banner and Golden Rays completed the order of finish.
Trainer Todd Pletcher was encouraged by Zulu’s performance. The Bernardini colt, in only his third start, was being tested around two turns for the first time while making his stakes debut.
“Hopefully, it’s something to build on and improve on,” Pletcher said. “He gave us the impression he wanted more distance, and I think he showed he can handle that. We’re still working on a few things. He got a little excited in the post parade and a little excited in the starting gate.”
For an Equibase chart, click here.
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire