The 2016 Kentucky Derby Trail makes a stop at Gulfstream Park this Saturday for a key prep race that is part of a jam-packed card of six major graded stakes races. The event at the top of the list is this year’s Fountain of Youth Stakes with the Palm Beach Stakes for three-year olds also in the mix.
The competition should be fierce this Saturday at Gulfstream, but I have broken down the field for both the Fountain of Youth and the Palm Beach to come up with my top two three-year olds that I have as the perfect exacta play.
Fountain of Youth Stakes- Gulfstream Park
The Fountain of Youth is a Grade 2 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds contested on the dirt track at Gulfstream over a distance of 1 1/16 miles. Its $400,000 total prize purse makes this the richest event of the six stakes races on Saturday’s card.
The early favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Derby with most of the major betting site's futures odds headlines this year’s Fountain of Youth. Mohaymen comes into this race ranked 14th by Horse Racing Nation and its current rating stands at 8.19. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt first caught the attention of horse bettors with his victory in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct as a juvenile on Nov. 4. He closed-out his two-year old campaign with another important victory at Aqueduct in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Mohaymen firmly established himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender with a win in this year’s Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 30. So far, he has definitely lived-up to a progeny that goes back to 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled.
There should be a heated battle for second between the next two highest-ranked horses in the field, but I am going with Awesome Banner over Awesome Speed as my second choice for sports picks. Trained by Stanley Gold, Awesome Banner comes into this race with a huge home-track advantage at Gulfstream. Going back to his victory in a Maiden Special Weight race in his racing debut, he has won all three events he has run at this track in his young career.
His first big win at this track as a three-year old was in the Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes on Jan. 2 and he quickly followed that up with a solid victory in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream to close-out the month of January on a winning note.
Palm Beach Stakes- Gulfstream Park
The total prize purse for this season’s Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes has been set at $150,000. This event is also open to three-year old thoroughbreds and it will be contested on the turf at Gulfstream over a length of 1 1/16 miles.
The field for this year’s Palm Beach Stakes is still taking shape as we get closer to post time this Saturday afternoon, but I would still lean heavily towards Azar as my top pick to beat the sports odds. With famed trainer Todd Pletcher running the show, there is some definite interest to see what this three-year old Kentucky-bred colt is really made of after an encouraging second-place run in the non-graded Kitten’s Joy Stakes on Jan. 30 at Gulfstream over a distance of a mile. He had a very active juvenile campaign with five previous runs including three finishes in the money.
Right out of the gate in his first graded stakes race he won the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in early September. While he did follow this up with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes on Sept. 26 at Belmont, some of the early luster was lost in a disappointing 13th-place run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland.
My second choice for Saturday’s Palm Beach would be JR’s Holiday. Trained by Jose Garoffalo, this three-year old colt actually edged-out Azar for the win in the Kitten’s Joy at the end of last month. I am not sure he has what it takes to beat my top pick again over the longer distance, but he should be able to give him a run for the money as a great exacta pairing.
JR’s Holiday was also very active as a juvenile with five runs at Gulfstream in various MSW events. Following a slow start with three finishes out of the money, he started to pay-off with a second-place run in late-August followed by a victory on Sept. 12 to close-out his 2015 racing season.