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Fountain Of Youth Stakes 2024 | Gulfstream Park Picks [Kentucky Derby]
Dornoch (Jason Moran/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

Fountain Of Youth Stakes 2024 | Gulfstream Park Picks [Kentucky Derby]

Aaron previews the 2024 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) from Gulfstream Park, then gives his top picks from this Kentucky Derby (G1) prep race.

Will the Remsen Stakes (G2) champion Dornoch win his 1st race as a 3-year-old? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing and Pine Racing Stables’ Dornoch, 13 weeks from a determined victory in the Remsen (G2) to cap his juvenile campaign, will get his sophomore season under way in Saturday’s $400,000 Coolmore Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

The 78th running of the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream’s next step for 3-year-olds on the road to the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) March 30, is the headliner on a spectacular 14-race program featuring nine stakes, eight graded, worth $1.85 million in purses.

First race post time is 11:15 a.m.

Gulfstream Picks

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By Good Magic out of the Big Brown mare Puca, Dornoch is a full brother to Mage, who ran fourth in the Fountain of Youth and second in the Florida Derby last year before capturing the Kentucky Derby (G1). Big Brown won both the Florida and Kentucky Derby in 2008, and Good Magic was third in the 2018 Fountain of Youth.

Dornoch got some time off after the Remsen, returning to the work tab Jan. 22 with five breezes at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, for his return. His Danny Gargan-trained stablemate, Dubyuhnell, won the Remsen in 2022 then ran eighth in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs and 11th in the Florida Derby last year before going to the sidelines.

“I kind of figured I wanted to wait until we were here,” Gargan said. “When horses run in the Breeders’ Cup, they get a break. I won the Remsen before and didn’t give them a break in the past and it didn’t work out so well for me. I just wanted him to have every chance he deserves.

“I think he’s a really good horse, so we just went ahead and gave him three or four weeks off and let him grow and mature. Hopefully we’re doing the right thing and it works out for him,” he added. “He’s training well, he looks good. He’s a big, pretty horse. It’s his first race of the year and it’ll be nice to get him back running.”

Dornoch ran second in his first two starts last summer, a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Saratoga and the one-mile Sapling at Monmouth Park behind multiple stakes winner Noted. Third in that race was Frankie’s Empire, who came back to win the seven-furlong Swale Feb. 3 at Gulfstream and is also entered in the Fountain of Youth.

Heavily favored in his return to maiden company last fall at Keeneland, Dornoch romped by 6 ½ lengths in front-running fashion before making his graded debut in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen.

He again set the pace, lost the lead at the head of the stretch to Sierra Leone, but dug back in to get up by a nose. Sierra Leone won the Risen Star (G2) while third-place finisher Drum Roll Please took the Jerome at Aqueduct in their 3-year-old debuts.

“[Dornoch] hit the rail turning for home or I don’t think he would have had to come back last time,” Gargan said. “All of his races he ran really good. The first time out was a sprint, he needed the race and ran second. Next time we ran him at Monmouth and he had a really bad trip. He didn’t see [Noted] coming or I think he’d have won that race. The first turn was crazy and then going from last to first on the backside and opening up, he was driving like a motorcycle that day. He won real easy at Keeneland and came back and ran good in the Remsen.”

Luis Saez, up for three of Dornoch’s four races including each of his two wins, returns to ride from Post 5 in a field of nine.

“We’ve always been really high on him. Everybody in barn likes him. We think he’s a nice horse,” Gargan said. “I just don’t want him to go too forward. Hopefully he doesn’t have to run a crazy, big, fast number or anything like that too soon. We just want to keep him maintained in what he’s doing and hopefully he can be sound and be there on the first Saturday in May. Don’t get me wrong, we’d like to win the Fountain of Youth but it’s really not the goal.”

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Walmac Farm’s Grade 1 winner Locked is also set to make his season opener, delayed a week after being scratched from the Sam Davis after spiking a temperature.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher owns a record four Fountian of Youth wins – Scat Daddy (2007), Eskendereya (2010), Itsaknockout (2015) and Forte (2023).

Locked signaled his readiness for the Fountian of Youth with a five-furlong breeze Saturday at Palm Beach Downs in company with 3-year-old maiden Foxhole, going in 1:10.65 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:15.37.

“Once he had that temperature he recovered nicely and had a nice work last week,” Pletcher said. “He’s had a good week of training and … another good breeze [today] that should have him right on target.”

After running third in debut last summer at Saratoga, Locked graduated by 7 ¼ lengths in his next start and followed up with a popular half-length triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland that earned him favoritism in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Locked raced near the back early before closing on the outside to get third behind Pletcher-trained stablemate Fierceness, who is awaiting the Florida Derby.

“We’re very excited about getting him going again,” Pletcher said. “He’s a horse that we’ve always thought a lot of. I think he’s going to appreciate more distance in these races as they get a little longer. He’s always been a high-class colt and he’s training very well at the moment.”

Regular rider Jose Ortiz will be aboard from Post 8.

Pletcher also settled on WinStar Farm and Siena Farm’s Speak Easy for the Fountain of Youth, another of his 11 nominees to the race.

The bay son of 2014 Florida Derby and 2015 Donn Handicap (G1) winner Constitution was an impressive 1 ¾-length debut winner Jan. 27 at Gulfstream on the undercard of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series and has posted back-to-back bullet works at Palm Beach Downs, most recently five furlongs in 1:00.15 Feb. 22.

Irad Ortiz Jr. is named on Speak Easy from Post 1.

“Like always at this time of year you’ve got to remain flexible and be ready to call some audibles, like we’re doing with Locked,” Pletcher said. “The good thing is there’s a prep race every weekend.”

Frank DeLuca’s Frankie’s Empire takes a two-race win streak into the Fountain of Youth, his four victories from seven starts the most in the field.

The son of champion Classic Empire stretches out around two turns for the first time after taking a 6 ½-furlong optional claiming allowance Dec. 26 at Parx before springing a 14-1 upset in the Swale, taking the lead at the top of the stretch and drawing away to win by 3 ½ lengths.

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Rohan Crichton, Daniel Walters and Dennis Smith’s Real Macho will make his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth after beating well-regarded Born Noble and Merit in a one-mile optional claiming allowance Feb. 3 at Gulfstream.

Crichton, who also trains the son of Gulfstream favorite and Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire Mucho Macho Man, felt the win has given his horse confidence.

“It’s absolutely looking that way,” he said. “If you watch his [last] race, [jockey] Tyler [Gaffalione] had to be keeping after him. That’s actually what we agreed on. For some reason, you just have to put him there. I think he’s got the talent and certainly the stamina. Since that race, in the mornings he feels different. It feels like he’s putting it together.”

Gaffalione gets the return call from Post 4.

OGMA Investments, JR Ranch, Uplands Flats Racing, Morplay Racing and High Step Racing’s Victory Avenue, trained by Gustavo Delgado, hails from similar connections as that of Mage.

The Arrogate colt ran second as the favorite to another highly touted Pletcher trainee, Speak Easy, in an seven-furlong maiden special weight Jan. 27 at Gulfstream on the undercard of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series, his lone start.

Completing the field are:

  • Alex Andres’ Dancing Groom, who finished ahead of Fierceness when third in the Champagne (G1) last fall and exits a fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (G3) Feb. 3 at Gulfstream
  • Vicente Stella Stables’ Le Dom Bro, ninth in the Remsen and runner-up in the Swale
  • Peter Blum homebred Merit, a 10 ¼-length debut winner last fall at Gulfstream

Both Merit and Speak Easy are cross-entered in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds March 1 at Gulfstream.