Irish War Cry, Gunnevera, Practical Joke Take Next Steps
By Dick Downey
Five story lines dominate Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Irish War Cry will defend his front-running victory in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes for trainer Graham Motion;
Antonio Sano's Gunnevera, who finished second by 3 3/4 lengths in the Holy Bull, will try to turn the tables on his rival;
Practical Joke is set to make his 3-year-old debut for Chad Brown, who's loaded for bear on the stakes-rich card, after winning the Champagne Stakes and running third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last year;
Classic Empire, third in the Holy Bull, is away from the races for the time being while recovering from the effects of a foot abscess; and
Despite the defection of McCraken from the Tampa Bay Derby with an ankle sprain, there are no defections from the expected Fountain of Youth field.
“He has really perked up in the mornings. He was a pretty laid-back horse when we left Fair Hill in the fall. He is now a pretty sharp 3-year-old colt, which is exciting to see,” Motion said. “I thought he was a nice horse but when he broke his maiden. I couldn’t have imagined ever he would have won the why he did. He has just handled everything so well. Some horses just seem to handle every step and, knock on wood, he has.”
As for his choice to run back in the Fountain of Youth, Motion's analysis was plain and simple.
“It just seems logical. He’s here. He’s lightly raced. I don’t really need to be skipping races at this point,” he said. “He’s only run three times. The Fountain of Youth on its own is a big race. I think he needs to be in there.”
Motion thinks Saturday will be a change from the Holy Bull, when Classic Empire was a strong favorite, but Irish War Cry set an uncontested pace.
“It’s going to be a little different this time. We didn’t have a target on our back last time. I couldn’t believe how comfortably he beat the 2-year-old champion. That was exciting,” Motion said. “This time … people will have expectations, as they should. I just would like to see him run a similar race. He’s doing great and I see no reason not to run in the Fountain of Youth. We’re looking forward to it.”
Sano is one of those hoping that what will change is the winne of this race.
“The last time when he lost the race, he got bumped on the last turn and it broke his action. He had to start running again,” Sano said of Gunnevera. “He’s a very good horse. Thank God the horse is very sound for the race. I am very confident and thinking he can win. He will be facing some very good horses. No race is easy but I have a good horse.We don’t want to change anything from the last race. The only difference is, we want to win.”
Eight others will attempt to pick up Kentucky Derby points in the Gulfstream Park's penultimate Derby prep stakes race.
Talk Logistics will take another shot at Irish War Cry and Gunnevera following a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull. He contested the early pace with Irish War Cry and faded to a 14-length defeat.
Huracan Americo will make his North American debut on Saturday. He raced twice in Peru in 2016, finishing fourth in his debut before winning the 1 1/2-mile, Group 1 Derby Nacional on Nov. 6 at Hipodromo De Monterrico in Lima. He arrived at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 20 and has been under the care of Dante Zanelli, Jr. at the track.
Several horses will make their stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.
Beasley comes in from the Mark Hennig barn off a grudging second-place finish to Battalion Runner in a Gulfstream entry-level allowance race. Hennig has said the horse is guilty of "messing around a little bit on the turns" and that it has cost him.
“We need to see where he fits in this crop. I think he’s been advancing a little bit every race,” Hennig said. “He’s fooled around a little on the turn in a couple of his races, his first and third race, and I think we’ve corrected that with some equipment changes. We’re looking forward to running him again and hoping he moves forward again.”
Lookin for Eight, a recent private purchase by Gary Barber and John Oxley, was turned over to Mark Casse from Michael Tomlinson. He, too, has been beaten by Battalion Runner, albeit in a maiden race, and now he faces winners and goes two turns for the first time after easily winning a seven-furlong event at the track.
Todd Pletcher will start Made You Look on dirt for the first time after saying he's been training well on the surface at Palm Beach Downs. Winner of the With Anticipation Stakes going two turns at Saratoga last summer, Made You Look finished his juvenile campaign with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. This year, he won the Dania Stakes before finishing third as the 1-2 favorite in the Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream.
“This time of year there’s a lot of opportunities, but when you search through them none of them are what I would call soft spots. You kind of have to just pick your place and give it a try and we think there’s some pros to the Fountain of Youth,” Pletcher said. “He’s down here, and the Gulfstream track may be something he would like. I thought Irish War Cry was very impressive. I thought Gunnevera had some subtle trouble and he ran very well. Practical Joke is coming back. It’s no easy race.”
Three Rules finished second in the Swale Stakes, his first start of 2017, after taking the lead at the top of the stretch and being passed by Favorable Outcome. He swept the Florida Stallion stakes series last year but finished a tiring sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita after shipping for the first time. Jose Pinchin trains.
“He won at a mile and a sixteenth already but this will be a good test,” trainer Jose Pinchin said. “He ran a great race last time. The horse that beat him is a nice horse. He had a little problem when he stumbled out of the starting gate. When you run against that caliber of horse, you have to have everything perfect. I think he’s going to run great.”
Kiaran McLaughlin will try to reverse the fortunes of Takaful. After winning his 2016 debut by eight lengths, he set a too-fast early pace and finished third to Mo Town in the Remsen Stakes. In his next start and first race this year, Takaful again set the pace; however, he faded badly to finish last in the Jerome Stakes. The Holy Bull will be his first start since that debacle.
“He’s doing well. It’s still a mystery from his last race, but I think it was a bad track. He’s trained great before that and after that,” McLaughlin said. “The Holy Bull was a consideration, but we wanted more time just to make sure. It’s a little nerve-wracking after being eased almost to run back in a graded stake so we wanted to make sure we did everything we could to make sure everything was OK. That racetrack was really bad that day; wet, muddy, terrible. He didn’t like it, we hope. He’s a nice horse. We need to draw a line through that and give him another chance. If he’s not good enough we’ll move on, but we’ve got to give him a chance.”
Quinientos rounds out the field. He's a gelding trained by Enrique Sanchez who broke his maiden in his seventh start and followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the one-mile Just One More Stakes last time out.
Kentucky Derby points are on the line in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth, with 50 going to the winner and 20-10-5 going to the next three finishers. Post time is set for 6:05 p.m. ET. It's the last race on a 13-race card that features seven graded stakes.
Entries in post position order:
1 Huracan Americo, Edgar Prado, 50-1
2 Gunnevera, Javier Castellano, 7-2
3 Quinientos, Marcos Meneses, 50-1
4 Talk Logistics, Joe Bravo, 20-1
5 Beasley, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 6-1
6 Practical Joke, Jose Ortiz, 3-1
7 Three Rules, Luis Saez, 12-1
8 Irish War Cry, Joel Rosario, 5-2
9 Made You Look, John Velazquez, 10-1
10 Takaful, Paco Lopez, 12-1
11 Lookin for Eight, Julien Leparoux, 20-1