Great expectations were built into the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Not only was last year’s 2-year-old champion Good Magic making his first start of the year, but he was bet down to 7-10 odds against a respectable group of 3-year-olds. Moreover, Good Magic went into this 1-1/16 mile race as the early season favorite for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
Sadly, for those who backed Good Magic at the pari-mutuel windows and those who were confident he would quickly cement his status as the horse to beat on the First Saturday in May, they were left with less money and several questions going forward.
While I will discuss the results a bit later in this column, I want to stress an important, point about all such Derby prep races, a point I hope will guide horseplayers toward good Derby picks each and every year. The point is this: You should carefully review every major Derby prep race if you hope to identify the best and fittest contenders.
Without bragging, I have successfully used this principal to pick more than 30 Derby winners and several dozen exotic contenders since I first realized its value in the mid-1960’s. Specifically: Players should use all the available tools to properly evaluate the Derby preps that will identify horses who deserve to be followed up in their next starts.
Likewise, such careful evaluations will help you to downgrade unlikely Derby contenders, even highly ranked ones. That said, my suggestion also comes with a warning: You can’t do these evaluations in a half-way manner!
Today’s game actually gives players more information than was possible even 10 years ago. For instance, today’s Daily Racing Form result charts include more details about each horse’s performance and other pertinent facts. It also is true today’s players are often treated to good post-race comments published by highly trained trackside reporters. For an example of the added info, no one needed to have been at Gulfstream Park on Saturday to spot a few important things about the top three finishers.
The key tools included access to Fountain of Youth info on various internet channels as well as the TVG cable network. Those tools were, in fact, what I used on Saturday and what I’ve been relying upon to analyze and review key Derby prep races for this and every season for many years. Getting down to the basics, the telecast of Saturday’s race and its replays, along with Daily Racing Form’s result chart and comments made by the reporters on the scene, helped identify the following three things:
• Good Magic was unable to gain ground on the two horses who were in front of him through most of the race, finishing an evenly paced third, about 4-1/2 lengths behind the winner. If you paid close attention to what was on the TV screen, you would have seen he was breathing very hard as he was being led back to his trainer Chad Brown. Being that tired clearly indicated Good Magic was not quite fit for the task!
As such, it will be necessary to keep track of Good Magic’s workouts and he will need to show much more in his next start – the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 31, or the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, April 14.
• The winner, Promises Fulfilled – who was making his 2018 debut after having finished a tiring third in the Nov. 25 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill – broke sharply from his outside post position to take the lead. And, under smooth handling by red hot jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Promises Fulfilled then repelled a couple of challenges posed by previously undefeated Strike Power to score by 2-1/4 lengths.
The effort earned Promises Fulfilled a decent 96 Beyer Speed Figure. Regarding how he came out of the race, trainer Dale Romans was quoted in a DRF news report, saying “this colt has more to give and he came back great, not tired at all.”
• Strike Power was stretching out from a pair of sprint victories at Gulfstream, including the promising 102 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in his 5-1/2 furlong debut last December that was followed by the 87 he posted winning the 7 furlong Swale Stakes on Feb. 3. While it still remains to be seen if this colt wants any part of the 1-1/4 mile Kentucky Derby, the 92 Beyer he earned in the Fountain of Youth was three points higher than Good Magic.
In another example I wrote about a few weeks ago, I gave above average marks to Noble Moon when he finished third to Bravazo in the $400,000 Risen Star stakes at the Fairgrounds. In fact, I rated Noble Moon’s performance as more promising than the winner because he had to deal with traffic issues and appeared to learn a lot in the contest.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, I will be looking carefully at Noble Moon’s next outing to evaluate his true Derby status. As I said earlier in this column, such follow-up study is the best way to zero in on the most likely Kentucky Derby contenders.