By MICHAEL COMPTON
As the Kentucky Derby trail kicks into high gear this weekend, Sunday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park should go a long way in helping sort out the 3-year-old picture, at least in South Florida. With a field that includes the undefeated Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Algorithms and Florida-bred Discreet Dancer (with five wins between them), Union Rags, and Casual Trick, the 1 1/16-mile prep for the Florida Derby (G1) appears to be the deepest 3-year-old race assembled so far this season.
Gulfstream Park morning-line oddsmaker Chuck Streva made Starlight Racing’s Algorithms the 8-5 favorite for Sunday’s $400,000 feature.
Undefeated in three career starts, Algorithms was a five-length winner in the Jan. 29 of the Holy Bull (G3) over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Hansen. The Starlight Stable-owned runner will be ridden by Javier Castellano, who in the past piloted both Discreet Dancer and Union Rags.
“The reason I went with Algorithms was because he has a start over the track and Union Rags is making his first start of the year,” Streva explained. “Basically, that’s the reason I leaned the way I did.”
Following the Holy Bull victory, Castellano had plenty of good things to say about Algorithms.
“He felt absolutely amazing,” Castellano said following that score over Hansen. “He broke so sharp and wanted to go to the lead, but I just took my time. I don’t think two turns will be a problem for him. I rode his father Bernardini to win the Preakness and other big races and hopefully this horse can be like that. He’s certainly in the right hands with Todd Pletcher.”
Champagne (G1) winner Union Rags, second to Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and making his first start since the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup, was made the 2-1 second choice.
Jockey Julien Leparoux replaces Castellano aboard the Chadds Ford Stable colorbearer. A Kentucky homebred colt by Dixie Union, Union Rags won his first three career starts impressively, including the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 by 5 ¼ lengths.
“He’s as ready as he could possibly be other than running in a race,” said trainer Michael Matz of Union Rags preparation. “From the time he spent taking it easy at Skara Glen Farm in Wellington (Palm Beach County) early this year until he came back to us at Palm Meadows he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s hit every workout right on schedule. He’s grown up and matured. He must be close to 17 hands.”
The powerful Pletcher stable this season is very deep in potential Derby prospects and will also be represented by E. Paul Robsham Stable’s homebred Discreet Dancer in the Fountain of Youth with jockey John Velazquez to ride after Castellano rode him to victory in his only two career starts at this meet.
Discreet Dancer has been simply sensational in his two career starts, both around one turn. He blazed to a track record of 1:02.34 for 5 ½ furlongs in his career debt on Dec. 3. He returned with another dazzling effort, winning a one-mile allowance test by 5 ½ lengths on Jan. 7.
“I don’t like running two horses against each other ever, especially two very talented colts that are undefeated. One of them is going to have a loss after this race, and you hate that,” said Pletcher. “But at the same time, I think it’s best for each horse’s development – that’s mainly where our focus is, not so much just about this weekend, but hopefully moving forward, as well.”
Robert LaPenta’s Casual Trick with jockey Corey Nakatani flying in to ride for trainer Nick Zito will try to regain some footing in the 3-year-old ranks. Another son of Bernardini, Casual Trick was highly-rated among potential Derby contenders when finishing a game second by a half-length in the 1 1/16 miles Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day after an impressive maiden victory at Churchill Downs in November.
However, Casual Trick disappointed his fans and connections when tiring to last of eight as the favorite in a talented allowance field on Jan. 29, a race won by Pletcher-trainer El Padrino. The track was rated ‘good’ that day and Zito has said he believes his colt just didn’t handle the surface and is dismissing the performance giving him another chance at this level Sunday.
Others in the field include: Neck ‘N Neck (15-1), Florida-bred Fort Loudon (20-1), Casual Trick (8-1), News Pending (20-1), and Csaba (20-1).