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Johnny D's Fountain of Youth Picks

by Johnny D

February 27, 2020

Those of a certain age can recall hearing venerable sportscaster Jim McKay’s dramatic weekly voiceover, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

It’s doubtful that this weekend’s Thoroughbred events will equal the excitement of seeing a young Cassius Clay, a charging Arnold Palmer or a helpless Vinko Bogataj. You’re probably familiar with the first two names, but the third might not ring a bell. He’s the Yugoslavian ski jumper that famously wiped out during a 1970 competition in Oberstdorf, Germany. Bogataj became the unforgettable image paired with the words ‘the agony of defeat.’ While the intro video for “Wide World of Sports” changed during a 37-year span, McKay’s delivery, first aired April 29, 1961, endured.

McKay won two Emmy Awards for moving coverage of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games—one for sports and one for news. He also hosted the USA Olympic hockey team’s incredible victory over the Soviets in 1980 at Lake Placid. The nation recently celebrated the 40-year anniversary of that event.

If McKay were with us today, no doubt, he’d be intrigued by this weekend’s ‘globe-spanning’ of his favorite sport: horseracing. Born in Philadelphia and moved to Baltimore at age 14, McKay eventually bred and raised Thoroughbreds. He famously founded Maryland Million Day in order to showcase the local talent. That event has grown to be second to only the Preakness in Charm City equine popularity.

Saturday, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, several top-ranked US horses will meet worldwide foes for the inaugural presentation of the $20 million Saudi Cup. Xpressbet account holders can watch and wager on all the races beginning at 8 am ET. #7 Maximum Security has a chance to prove he’s a superstar. That didn’t definitively happen in 2019 for a variety of reasons--disqualification, illness, poor timing. In fact, in some quarters, there’s lingering doubt about ‘Max’s ability to punch with the heavyweights. While some maintain he should have been voted Horse of the Year, others dispute his Eclipse as the year’s top 3-year-old.

In this corner, we’re Maximum Security fans, but agree that he’s got something to prove. Perhaps, he will do that Saturday. Of course, how the near virgin King Abulaziz surface plays Saturday is a valid concern. Will it favor speed or closers? Word is that, so far, the track has played fairly. If, for some reason, ‘Max can’t make it happen, look for one of Bob Baffert’s to get the job done (surprise, surprise!). #9 McKinzie is the most obvious threat, but a razor-sharp and improved #8 Mucho Gusto also is a serious consideration at a price. The Saudi Cup is the race of the young 2020 season, unfortunately, those seriously offended by Saudi Arabia’s human rights record refuse to support the race.

On the other half of the globe, late Saturday afternoon US time, the 74th running of the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park will match 3-year-olds sharing ultimate designs on winning the Kentucky Derby. With $400k in purse money and 85 points available toward a reserved parking spot in the new 20-horse Churchill Downs Derby starting gate, competition will be fierce.

Here’s a horse-by-horse look at the Fountain of Youth.

1. Candy Tycoon (Pletcher/Franco) - 15/1

Meet’s leading trainer Todd Pletcher sends out this recent impressive mile and one-sixteenth maiden winner. While it took this one 5 starts to finally graduate, he’s sharp, in good hands and has drawn well in here for taking a shot at making the lead from the rail. Regular rider John Velazquez moves to #10 Shotski, but that makes sense. This one’s entry was a last minute audible from the cinch Hall of Fame trainer’s barn.

2. Makabim (Hurtak/Alvarado) - 50/1

Horseracing is a game of hope. His entry in this race is the proof.

3. Masterday (Zerpa/Torres) - 30/1

He broke maiden first out at Gulfstream Park West and hasn’t been closer than 6 lengths behind in two subsequent allowance outings. He’d need more to do damage here.

4. The Falcon (Quartarolo/Meneses) - 50/1

Will be looking for ‘The Snowman’ to complete the exacta. He’s been close in two maiden starts—third by a neck for a $50k tag in the slop at Churchill and a close second going a mile at Turfway against straight maidens. Not for us.

5. Dennis' Moment (Romans/Prat) - 2/1

He hasn’t been seen in the afternoon since stumbling at the start of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, losing all chance as the heavy favorite. His career theme song, made popular by Frank Sinatra in 1939, is “All or Nothing at All.” He has a pair of wins and two complete tosses among four career starts. First time out, he clipped heels down the backstretch and dislodged jockey Robby Albarado. Next out he broke maiden and parlayed that into a decisive score in the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill. That led to the disappointing BC Juvenile. Any highly regarded juvenile making an initial sophomore start must be viewed with a hint of cynicism. What’s happened previously is of little import. They must prove themselves by transferring notable form into a 3-year-old season. This guy’s no exception to the rule, especially because he’s going to be heavily bet and shows a history of unfortunate events. On his best day, he’s the best in this field. Will Saturday be one of those days…or nothing at all? BTW…the favorite has won this race just twice in the last 10 years. If Dennis’ Moment should go odds-on in the wagering know this: the favorite in this race has been odds-on five times in the last eight years. Four of those five have lost.  

6. As Seen on Tv (Breen/Lopez) - 9/2

The son of Lookin At Lucky has won two of four starts, including the restricted Juvenile Sprint at Gulfsteam Park West. His lone 3-year-old outing was a narrow, grueling Mucho Macho Man defeat by Chance It, a foe he faces here. He had advantages over Chance It in that race but couldn’t seal the deal. This will be his first try around two turns. Expect him to show speed in here with Chance It and others stalking intently. He seems a bit of a reach, but the post draw didn’t hurt him as much as it did others.  

7. Country Grammer (Brown/Castellano) - 15/1

Reported to be a half-brother to Kelsey Grammer…just kidding. Sorry, that was unavoidable but bad. This guy comes from the powerful Chad Brown outfit and counts a strong maiden victory last out at a mile and one-eighth at Aqueduct in November. His first race resulted in a fourth placing while wide in a mile turf race at Belmont. No doubt this is an aggressive spot for Country Grammer but he’s got the right connections to threaten exotics in here. 

8. Gear Jockey (Arnold/Leparoux) - 20/1

He’s a maiden after 5 starts, but he’s got a pair of graded stakes turf tries on his resume—third-place finishes in both the Gr. 3 Bourbon and Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He’s been off the board in his two dirt starts. This son of Twirling Candy has been working forwardly at Palm Meadows, including five-furlong bullets—one on turf and one on dirt. Expect to find him just behind the early leaders, a good spot, but he must improve his dirt form significantly to threaten in here.    

9. Liam's Lucky Charm (Nicks/Zayas) - 15/1

He had a rough time of it before the start of the Gr. 2 Risen Star Stakes. He broke through the gate and then didn’t fire at nearly 6-1 contender odds. Before that, he won the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay as favorite. That effort added to an impressive sprint resume that also included a decision over Chance It --this race’s second choice—in three tries. Distance appears to be a question with this son of Khozan and those backing him will need to be very forgiving of his Risen Star disappointment.

10. Shotski (O'Dwyer/Velazquez) - 10/1

Along with favorite Dennis’ Moment, Shotski is a graded stakes winner who was successful in the Gr. 2 Remsen at a mile and one-eighth at Aqueduct. He also finished fourth in the one-mile Street Sense and second in the mile and one-eighth Gr. 3 Withers behind Max Player. He’s been on the lead in his last two starts, but that position will be occupied in the Fountain of Youth. Can Shotski rate comfortably and kick when the time is right? His past performances suggest not. In two dirt starts when he failed to make the lead, he didn’t run well. And, even in races where he made the lead, he lost ground in the stretch. He’ll need to show me more. Jockey John Velazquez has won the race a leading 5 times.   

11. Ete Indien (Biancone/Geroux) - 8/1

He has two wins in three starts, both coming at Gulfstream Park with one on turf. Following a grassy, first-out maiden race, this colt was elevated to Grade 3 turf competition in the Bourbon at Keeneland. He drew an outside post there and raced wide without threatening. A one-mile allowance score led to a start in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at the Fountain of Youth distance. He led most of the way until gobbled up in the stretch by highly regarded Tiz the Law.  He figures close to the early pace in here and may force As Seen on TV’s hand early. According to Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch: since the track was reconfigured, at a mile and one-sixteenth horses breaking from post 11 are 4 for 54.

12. Chance It (Joseph Jr./Gaffalione) - 7/2

He battled back gamely inside As Seen on TV to win the one-mile Mucho Macho Man last out at Gulfstream Park. The pair finished clear of third-place runner Sole Volante, who stretched out to win the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs next out. A winner of 4 of 6 starts (all at Gulfstream), he was a multiple restricted-stakes winner before the Mucho Macho Man. He has speed but was comfortable racing just off the pace last out. He’s handy and gutsy, as he rallied along the rail for the victory. He’s also trained by Saffie Joseph, one of Gulfstream’s top conditioners. The jury is still out, though, on his most effective distance. He has a romping score at a mile and one-eighth against overmatched foes and now he must prove himself against better competition. He can’t be ignored. The post draw did him no favors. According to Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch, since the reconfiguration of the track, at a mile and one-sixteenth horses breaking from post 12 have won 3 of 36.

Bottom Line: #5 Dennis’ Moment, a talented-but-unlucky 2-year-old, will have to show that he’s matured with the rest of his generation. He’s been away since November, will be a short price and has to prove he’s got the goods at 3. He could win, but this is the time to take a shot against him.

The biggest problem with that plan is that several of the most talented challengers #10 Shotski, #11 Ete Indien and #12 Chance It all drew poorly. One can assume there will be a few scratches in the race, moving outside contenders a few slots toward the rail. Still, it’s not a plus to be wide around the Gulfstream oval going a mile and one-sixteenth.

All things considered, there should be a quick early pace and that ought to set the table for Dennis’ Moment. If he has one of his ‘good’ days, he’ll win. However, as we’ve already discussed, there are negatives. Perhaps #12 Chance It can get over from the far outside, rate kindly and save some ground. If you’re in an adventuresome mood, give longshots allowance winner #7 Country Grammer and maiden #8 Gear Jockey looks in the exotics. Either could come from off the pace and both bring solid works into this.

If Saturday’s global dose of ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’ tickles your fancy, you’re in luck. Another rich worldwide doubleheader is on tap Saturday, March 29, when Gulfstream hosts the Gr. 1 Florida Derby and Meydan Racecourse presents the 25th running of the $12 million Dubai World Cup program.

Race On!