Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at the Best Fountain of Youth Stakes Winners

Thunder Gulch, left, won his 3-year-old debut by a neck over Suave Prospect in the 1995 Fountain of Youth Stakes and went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes during a championship season. (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

Gulfstream Park’s feature race this Saturday is the $400,000, Grade 2 Coolmore Fountain of Youth Stakes. Some of the top 3-year-olds in the country will do battle in this 1 1/16-mile contest. The quest to earn points towards the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve is heating up, and this race offers 50 qualifying points to the winner.

The Fountain of Youth is named after the mythical spring that attracted explorers to Florida in the 16th Century. The race was first held in 1945, and has been run every year since 1953. In 1973, it became a Grade 3 race, and was Given Grade 2 status in 1982. From 1999 to 2003, the race was a Grade 1. It has been held at a variety of distances, but has been run at 1 1/16 miles since 2012.

Here, we’ll take a look back at some of the best horses to win this race.


30 starts, 26 wins, 2 seconds, 1 third


“The Bid” is considered one of the all-time great horses. He was voted the champion 2-year-old of 1978, after winning five stakes races.

To begin his 3-year-old season, trainer Buddy Delp sent him to Gulfstream Park. Facing a field of three others in his sophomore bow, the Hutcheson Stakes, Spectacular Bid made short work of them. He won by 3 ¾ lengths as an overwhelming 1-20 favorite.

Twelve days later, before a President’s Day crowd of 20,463, Spectacular Bid ran in the Fountain of Youth. He was once again a heavy favorite, sent off at odds of 1-10. In the early stages, jockey Ron Franklin kept him just off the leader, then moved up heading up the backstretch. By the time he rounded the final turn, the Bid had an insurmountable lead. He crossed the finish line 8 ½ lengths in front, stopping the clock for 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 ⅕.

Spectacular Bid had little trouble on the rest of the Derby trail. He won his next three preps by a combined 23 ½ lengths, going off at 1-20 each time. After similarly easy victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, a Triple Crown seemed like a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, a tough trip near a fast pace in the Belmont Stakes caused him to fade to third.

Although he won two more graded stakes as a 3-year-old, it was as a 4-year-old that he established his place as a racing immortal. He was a perfect 9-for-9, with the highlight coming in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita Park. That day, he won by five lengths, setting a world record for 1 ¼ miles in 1:57 ⅘. In his final start, the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park, he had no opponents, winning in a walkover.


21 starts, 10 wins, 4 seconds, 0 thirds


Going into the 1985 Fountain of Youth, Proud Truth looked like one of the up-and-comers on the Florida racing scene. Two weeks prior, he impressively won a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by six lengths. Off that win, he was the 9-5 favorite in the 14-horse Fountain of Youth field.

Jorge Velasquez kept him in midpack early on, then moved to the lead on the turn with a seven-wide bid and took charge in the stretch. He encountered a challenge in the stretch from Stephan’s Odyssey, who went on to finish second in the Belmont Stakes. Proud Truth held him off, winning by a neck and establishing himself as Florida’s top Kentucky Derby prospect.

In his next start, the Florida Derby, Proud Truth once again prevailed by a neck, and was the 4.90-1 third choice in the Kentucky Derby. He ended up fifth, blown away by Spend a Buck’s gate-to-wire win.

As it turned out, Proud Truth saved his best work for the end of the year. Off a win in the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct, John Veitch entered him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the same track. Sent off at 7.40-1 in a wide-open betting race, he rallied from behind to prevail in the $3 million epic by a head over Gate Dancer.

BET TWICE (1987)

26 starts, 10 wins, 6 seconds, 4 thirds


This Jimmy Croll trainee was already well-accomplished going into the 1987 Fountain of Youth. He won three graded stakes, including two Grade 1s, as a 2-year-old.

He started his 3-year-old campaign on Feb. 28, in the Key West Stakes at Hialeah Park. Although he closed well, he ended up losing by half a length to upset winner Mr. Zippity Doo Dah. Next up was the Fountain of Youth, where he was the even-money favorite. He bounced back from his defeat, winning by 2 ½ lengths in an impressive 1:43 ⅖.

Bet Twice truly blossomed later in his 3-year-old season. After finishing second to Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, he spoiled his Triple Crown bid with a sensational 14-length Belmont Stakes victory. Later that summer, he once again defeated Alysheba, along with Lost Code, in a fantastic stretch duel in the Haskell Invitational.


19 starts, 11 wins, 5 seconds, 0 thirds


Woody Stephens was one of the most dominant trainers of the 1980s. He famously won the Belmont Stakes five years in a row, from 1982 to 1986. Heading into 1988, it looked like he would have yet another serious Triple Crown contender.

Forty Niner was voted the top 2-year-old male of 1987 after posting four graded stakes wins. His lofty reputation took a bit of a hit going into the Fountain of Youth, as he was second as the 7-10 favorite in the Hutcheson Stakes in the race prior. Still, bettors were quick to forgive the loss, sending Forty Niner off as the 4-5 favorite in the nine-horse Fountain of Youth field.

It wasn’t easy, but the big favorite eked out a victory. Eddie Maple sent him right to the lead from post seven, dropping him over to the rail as soon as he was able. Although he had to fend off constant challenges, Forty Niner prevailed by a nose over Notebook.

The rest of Forty Niner’s 3-year-old campaign was marked by more close finishes. He won the Haskell Invitational, the Travers Stakes, and the NYRA Mile, all by no more than a neck. He was second in the Woodward Handicap, the Kentucky Derby (to the filly Winning Colors), the Florida Derby, and the Lexington Stakes, losing all those races by no more than a neck. His season, and career, concluded with a fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

FLY SO FREE (1991)

33 starts, 12 wins, 5 seconds, 3 thirds


Fly So Free burst on the racing scene in a dramatic way in late 1990. He won the Champagne Stakes off a long layoff by 5 ¼ lengths then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile going away to clinch the Eclipse for 2-year-old male.

Scotty Schulhofer sent his big colt down to Florida, where he ran roughshod over the other Kentucky Derby prospects stationed down there. As the 11-10 favorite in the Hutcheson Stakes, he came from off the pace to get up for a neck victory. For his Fountain of Youth attempt he was the 1-2 favorite.

That afternoon, he enjoyed a perfect trip, and it paid off in a big way. Jose Santos rated him off the leaders on the rail, then seized control at the three-quarters marker. Under a full drive from Santos, Fly So Free cruised under the line six lengths in front, further establishing his dominance over the rest of the 3-year-old crop.

After a length win in the Florida Derby, Fly So Free’s potential looked endless. However, a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes as the 3-10 favorite, followed by a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, cooled his reputation somewhat. He won three more graded stakes in his career, which extended to the end of his 5-year-old season.


16 starts, 9 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds


Heading into the 1995 Derby trail, Thunder Gulch was the second banana in the powerhouse D. Wayne Lukas barn. He had squeaked out a desperate win in the Remsen Stakes, then finished second in the Hollywood Futurity. His barnmate, Timber Country, was voted the champion 2-year-old male off three graded stakes wins, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Lukas elected to send Timber Country to California, while Thunder Gulch went to Florida.

Thunder Gulch made his sophomore bow in the Fountain of Youth, which drew a field of 12 Derby aspirants. Mike Smith rated him off a hotly contested pace, then moved to engage Suave Prospect at the top of the stretch. The two dueled throughout the stretch but Thunder Gulch outdueled his rival for a neck win.

A few weeks later in the Florida Derby the same duel played out again, as Suave Prospect and Thunder Gulch engaged in another stirring battle, with Thunder Gulch prevailing by a nose this time. Coupled with Timber Country’s defeats in California, Thunder Gulch suddenly looked like Lukas’s best Derby hope. However, a dull fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes spooked bettors going into the first Saturday in May. Smith jumped off to ride Talkin Man, and Thunder Gulch was considered a rank 24.50-1 outsider. In fact, Suave Prospect, who lost to Thunder Gulch twice in Florida, went off at almost half the price.

However, Thunder Gulch bounced back when it counted. He won by 2 ¼ lengths with Gary Stevens aboard. Later that year, he added the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes to his résumé. He’s the only horse in the last 75 years to win all three races.


13 starts, 8 wins, 3 seconds, 1 third

CAREER EARNINGS: $2,232,830 

Quality Road made his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth, which was contested at one mile for the only time to date. He broke his maiden at Aqueduct impressively the prior November, then finished second in a first-level allowance to begin his 3-year-old season. Bettors sent the Jimmy Jerkens trainee off at 5.50-1, the fourth choice in the field of 10.

John Velazquez kept him in second place in the early stages, rating off the speedy This Ones for Phil. Around the final turn, he moved powerfully to the lead and outkicked his opponents for a 4 ¼-length win.

Although he won two more stakes races as a 3-year-old, Quality Road truly shined as a 4-year-old. He won three Grade 1 races, including a dominant 12 ¾-length win in the Donn Handicap. He also won the Met Mile and the Woodward Stakes.


8 starts, 5 wins, 1 second, 1 third


Union Rags in 2012. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Off two stakes wins as a 2-year-old along with a close second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Union Rags was highly regarded entering his 3-year-old debut. He was the 6-5 second choice in a field of seven for the Fountain of Youth, while the undefeated Discreet Dancer was the 4-5 favorite.

Class prevailed that day. Discreet Dancer set the pace in the early stages but encountered steady pressure and faded. Meanwhile, Union Rags sat off the flank of the duelers and pulled by them for an impressive four-length win.

In both the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby, he fell too far off the early pace, and left himself too much to do in the end. However, he bounced back in the Belmont Stakes, prevailing by a neck after a stretch duel with Paynter.

ORB (2013)

12 starts, 5 wins, 0 seconds, 3 thirds


Orb in 2013. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Heading into the 2013 Derby trail, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was still searching for his first Derby win. He had saddled six starters, including the great Easy Goer in 1989, but had not yet tasted victory.

Off two consecutive wins at Aqueduct and Gulfstream, Orb made his graded stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth. Bettors chose Violence that day; the two-time graded stakes winner was the 3-5 favorite in the field of 10. Orb was the 5.40-1 second choice.

Orb dropped well off the early pace, while Violence rated off a fast tempo on the rail. As they rounded the final turn, Violence pounced on the leader while Orb remained about five lengths off the top, although he was rallying powerfully. In the stretch, Violence opened up a clear lead but Orb chased him down in the last sixteenth for a half-length win.

After another win in the Florida Derby, Orb was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. On a wet track with new jockey in Joel Rosario, he came from behind for a splashy 2 ½-length win. It was the first Derby winner not only for Rosario and McGaughey, but Orb’s legendary owners, Stuart Janney and the Phipps family.


16 starts, 6 wins, 4 seconds, 2 thirds


Code of Honor in 2019. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Six years later, McGaughey found himself back in the Fountain of Youth winner’s circle. Code of Honor finished second in the Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old and then was given a break to keep him fresh for the Derby trail. In his 3-year-old debut, the Mucho Macho Stakes, he finished fourth as the 4-5 favorite.

Off that performance, he was considered a 9.50-1 outsider for the Fountain of Youth. Impressive maiden winner Hidden Scroll was sent off as the 6-5 favorite, but he faded after setting the pace. Meanwhile, John Velazquez kept Code of Honor in midpack, rode the rail most of the way, then angled him out in the stretch. He easily rolled by the tired Hidden Scroll then held off the late rally of Bourbon War for a three-quarter-length win.

Code of Honor continued to be in top form the rest of the season. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby, then rattled off three straight graded stakes wins. He became the first horse to win the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup since Summer Bird in 2009.

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