Early in the afternoon before the horses broke from the starting gate in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, an important change was announced.
Rather than see his horse break from the outside post in a field of 11, trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. opted for discretion over valor and scratched Chance It, the 7-2 second choice, in order to run March 7 in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.
A few hours later, there was plenty of room for second-guessing.
With Chance It’s defection, the outside post in a field of 10 was left to Ete Indien and the notoriously short run to the first turn did not faze the Summer Front colt in the least.
While subbing for the injured Luca Panini, jockey Florent Geroux made expert use of Ete Indien’s speed as soon as the gates opened in the Feb. 29 stakes, quickly grabbing a clear lead and cutting over to the rail to save ground.
After that, it was no contest.
Ete Indien galloped along on the lead and then took off in the stretch to cruise to an easy 8 ½-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and wrap up a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve for his deluxe-sized ownership group of trainer Patrick Biancone, Linda Shanahan, Sanford Bacon, Dream With Me Stable, Horse France America, and D P Racing.
“He went through a week of a hiccups,” Biancone said. “First he lost his jockey, then he drew [on the outside], but good horses can overcome anything and I think he’s an exceptional horse. We look forward to the future.”
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
On a day that saw 1.30-1 favorite Dennis’ Moment finish last and wagering reach a record $36.5 million, Ete Indien exited Saturday’s stakes with a future that may very well include the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and the Kentucky Derby, but first things first.
By winning the Fountain of Youth, Ete Indien picked up 50 qualifying points toward a spot in the field for the May 2 run for the roses. With four to his credit already, 54 points should be more than enough to earn him a spot in the starting gate and return Biancone to the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 15 years.
The Florida Derby figures to be the dark bay colt’s final prep for the opening leg of the Triple Crown, but after Saturday’s race Biancone preferred to wait a bit before committing to Florida’s definitive Kentucky Derby prep.
“I want to see how he comes out of this,” he said. “Next time, he will have to improve a little bit to win the Florida Derby but we’re here in Florida, he trains in Florida and loves Florida. I think we’ll take a shot if he’s in good form.”
Why Biancone spoke about needing improvement from his colt involves the shadow cast over the field when it crossed the finish line.
In his previous start, Ete Indien ran into Kentucky Derby favorite Tiz the Law in the Feb. 1 Holy Bull Stakes and finished three lengths behind him. With Tiz the Law also targeting the Florida Derby, the March 28 stakes could prove to be a difficult yet intriguing rematch.
For Biancone, whose career is back on track after he was suspended for what proved to be a six-month term in 2007 after vials of cobra venom were found in the tack room of his barn, Ete Indien’s performance gave him a strong hand for the Kentucky Derby as he also trains Sole Volante, winner of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes who is expected to face Chance it in the Tampa Bay Derby.
From three Kentucky Derby starters, Biancone has a runner-up finish by Lion Heart in 2004 and 16th-place finishes in 2003 and 2005.
The Fountain of Youth was supposed to be a springboard to the Triple Crown for Albaugh Family Stables’ Dennis’ Moment, but it only raised more questions about the son of Tiznow, who was making his first start since Nov. 1 when he stumbled at the start and finished last as a 4-5 favorite in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Jockey Flavien Prat said the favorite bobbled at the break and never fired.
“He bobbled out of the gate but then after that he regrouped and I thought I was in a good spot. When I hit the five-eighths pole, he just dropped the bit and after that I was done,” Prat said. “After that, there was no reason to beat him up. He didn’t want to go.”
Bred in Kentucky by Robert B. Tillyer and Eric Buckley out of the Mizzen Mast mare East India, Ete Indien was purchased by Biancone overseas at the 2019 Arqana May 2-Year-Old Breeze Up Sale for $269,640 from the Powerstown Stud consignment. Powerstown had purchased him a year earlier at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $80,000 from the Betz Thoroughbreds consignment.
With earnings of $333,156 from three wins in five starts, he is the only one of East India’s four foals to race.
Ete Indien started his career on turf with a Sept. 13 maiden win at Gulfstream Park, but after finishing eighth on the grass in the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland, he closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a Dec. 20 allowance-optional claiming win on dirt and has remained on the main track ever since.
After Geroux’s deft move at the break, Ete Indien led by a length after the opening quarter-mile with 49-1 shot Gear Jockey in closest pursuit.
“As soon as I secured a spot, I just put the horse on cruise control and the horse was nice and easy and took a nice breather,” Geroux said. “I didn’t think he was that quick, to be honest. I didn’t think he had this kind of speed, which gives us way more options in the future.”
As challengers gathered behind him, Ete Indien ($8.60) coasted along through quarter-mile fractions of :46.72 and 1:11.30 before dashing away from them with ease as he turned into the stretch. He led by 4 ½ lengths at the eighth pole en route to covering the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.02 as the 3.30-1 third choice.
The excitement was for the place spot as four horses battled for the remaining 35 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Mathis Stable’s 23.90-1 shot Candy Tycoon, a son of Twirling Candy trained by Todd Pletcher, won that duel, rallying from eighth to take second by a neck over Screen Door Stables’ As Seen On Tv, the 2.80-1 second choice who was a head behind Chance It in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes.
A maiden winner in last start, Candy Tycoon picked up 20 points, while the Kelly Breen-trained As Seen On Tv, a son of Lookin At Lucky , gained 10 points.
The final allotment of five points went to fourth-place finisher Shotski.