Tom Pedulla asks, and answers, five major questions stemming from the 71st running of the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Q: How good is Gunnevera?
A: He sits atop the leaderboard with 64 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, more than enough to ensure a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate on May 6. He is worthy of that status after scoring by a commanding 5 ¾ lengths in the Fountain of Youth. The son of Dialed In prevailed by the same margin in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes to close his 2-year-old campaign. He was guilty with an explanation when he finshed second to pacesetting Irish War Cry in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes in early February. He endured a costly bump on the far turn. This $16,000 bargain is a force to be reckoned with in the April 1 Florida Derby and beyond.
Q: Anyone else impressive in the Fountain of Youth?
A: Trainer Chad Brown was more than satisfied with Practical Joke’s runner-up finish. He showed plenty of life in his first start since he took third with a less-than-ideal trip in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He established his credentials before that with taut victories in the Hopeful and Champagne Stakes, both Grade 1 events. Brown said he will wait to determine where he will go for Practical Joke’s next start. Whichever spot he chooses, look for the Into Mischief colt to move forward and be a top contender.
Q: What about third-place finisher Three Rules?
A: He showed the way for much of the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth before yielding, however grudgingly. It is hard to imagine this scenario would not repeat itself as the distance increases to the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby and then to the classic 1 ¼-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby. It will be interesting to see what trainer Jose Pinchin’s next move will be with the Gone Astray colt.
Q: What to make of Irish War Cry?
A: The New Jersey-bred did not resemble the front-running colt that had everything his way in the Holy Bull Stakes and rolled to a comfortable 3 ¾-length triumph on Feb. 4. He lacked the speed needed to stay with Three Rules and faded badly when the serious running started in finishing seventh. Trainer Graham Motion questioned whether he had brought back Irish War Cry too soon. Well, the going is about to get much harder from here.
Q: Who was the biggest winner on Fountain of Youth day?
A: The Stronach Group. The 13-race program at Gulfstream Park produced a record handle of $26.693 million, besting the previous mark of $24.291 million set only last year. The first running of the $12 million Pegasus Invitational Stakes in late January generated an all-sources handle in excess of $40 million. Very simply, The Stronach Group knows how to put on a great show at a bustling, sun-splashed venue.