On Track with Johnny D: Fountain of Truth

Officially, Saturday’s major 3-year-old clash is labeled the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth. It’s a Grade 1 test, worth $400,000 and 85 total points toward inclusion in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Xpressbet proudly shares the Saturday spotlight with host Gulfstream Park for the 71st renewal. At one mile and one-sixteenth, the race traditionally offers developing sophomores a historically important step toward the one mile and one-eighth Florida Derby and, ultimately, the Louisville version at a one mile and one-quarter.

To this horseplayer, Saturday’s feature instead could be called the ‘Fountain of Truth.’ That’s because for a pair of high-profile Kentucky Derby hopefuls it will serve as a critical gut check—a time for them to either ‘put up or give up’ in the hunt for Derby glory. True, it’s only the beginning of March and nearly two months remain until the first Saturday in May. But, on the Triple Crown Trail, to paraphrase the late sage Yogi Berra, It gets late early here.

For favored Irish War Cry, Saturday he’s got to show that he can relax behind a hot pace and still rally home like he did in the Holy Bull. That afternoon, he enjoyed a comfortable, stroll on the lead before leaving the field behind in the stretch. That won’t be the case Saturday. The Fountain of Youth is loaded with speed, so the son of Ghostzapper must patiently wait his turn for jockey Joel Rosario.

Returning from a November respite, the once-beaten Practical Joke, trained by last season’s Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown, must prove that he’s matured over the winter. Historically, the Triple Crown Trail is littered with the ghosts of outstanding 2-year-olds that flopped at three. Will Practical Joke’s connections heap broken dreams on that towering funeral pyre? Or, will the colt improve on a 2-year-old season that included a lone defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?

Here’s one man’s opinion of runners in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth, with a suggested wager below:

Post     Horse Name              Trainer          Jockey                        ML Odds  

  1. Huracan Americo            Zanelli           Prado                             50-1

The Florida-bred, Peruvian-raced son of Drosselmeyer with one win in two lifetime starts—the $68,500 Group 1 Derby Nacional–has a few Gulfstream Park works for this race, but we’ll pass on him in this spot. Anyone who adds this unknown to the fourth spot in supers isn’t all wrong.

  1. Gunnevera                      Sano             Castellano                       7/2

This son of Dialed In is a hard-trying closer that figures to have a hot pace to chase in here. He was second last out behind Irish War Cry in the Holy Bull and should come running Saturday. He’s 5 of 7 first or second lifetime and 3 of 4 first or second at Gulfstream. He won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot at 2. He should be a big player in exotics, for sure.

  1. Quinientos                   Sanchez          Meneses                           50-1

This South Florida resident took seven starts to break his maiden. He seems up against it in here.

  1. Talk Logistics               Plesa                Bravo                              20-1

We expected this one to run better in the Holy Bull last out when he was beaten 14 lengths by Irish War Cry and 9 lengths by Gunnevera. How can he reverse that deficit in here? Good question. Joe Bravo replaces Paco Lopez in the irons, so maybe Jersey Joe can pull a rabbit out of his helmet, but it’s doubtful. Strictly a superfecta round out play at best.

  1. Beasley                       Hennig               I. Ortiz                               6-1

This son of Shackleford has a maiden win at 2 and two starts at 3, both seconds, on his resume. That’s a bit light, but he’s improving with each start and finished close enough to impressive allowance winner Battalion Runner, while nearly 8 lengths clear of the rest. He’s a pure reach in here and should find the water much deeper than in the past. Trainer Mark Hennig has suggested that he may scratch this one in search of a better option.

  1. Practical Joke            Brown                J. Ortiz                               3-1

Winner of 3 of 4 starts, his only loss came when third, nearly eight lengths back, in the BC Juvenile behind 2-year-old champ Classic Empire and the ultimately retired Not This Time. In that race, the son of Into Mischief was bumped at the start and raced wide before running out of gas in the lane. Has he matured over the winter? We shall see. His connections are top notch and trainer Brown’s numbers with horses off layoffs are sensational. Still, we would be surprised to see him come directly off the bench to win. Second or third seems a more likely outcome.

  1. Three Rules              Pinchin                    Saez                               12-1

Considered a hard-hitting, Gulfstream-based sprinter until he demolished local foes in the restricted In Reality Stakes, Three Rules took his show on the road in the BC Juvenile and wasn’t close. Connections complained of travel woes on the way out west, but this colt’s effectiveness around two turns still is in doubt. No one doubts his speed or determination—he was a close second in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes last out—but the jury’s still out on his route ability against top foes. It seems, based on his local record, he deserves to be kept around in exotics.

  1. Irish War Cry            Motion                     Rosario                              5/2

Unbeaten in three starts, this son of Curlin impressed with a dominating performance in the Grade 2 Holy Bull. That victory vaulted him toward the top of many 3-year-old rankings. In our humble opinion, Irish War Cry and McCraken have delivered the most complete 3-year-old performances of this young sophomore season. Following a nifty Palm Meadows workout in company, orchestrated to get him to relax early, we’re expecting Irish War Cry to win this race and to approach the Florida Derby as a strong favorite to parlay that into a Kentucky Derby score!

  1. Made You Look       Pletcher                 J. Velazquez                          10-1

This will be the son of More Than Ready’s first start on the main track. On grass, he has been notable, with three wins in six starts, including Grade 2 and Grade 3 wins. It appears that a bullet workout on the main track Feb. 25 at Palm Beach Downs triggered his entry into this race. Why not? It’s a $400,000 purse and basically two horses to beat: Irish War Cry and Practical Joke…and the latter hasn’t been seen since November. If Made You Look handles dirt…under his hooves and in his face…he has a chance to hit the board in here for trainer Todd Pletcher. Regular rider Javier Castellano bailed, in understandable preference for Gunnevera, but Johnny V is a more than suitable replacement. Keep this one around a bit in exotics.

  1. Takaful                   McLaughlin                      Lopez                             12-1

A powerful maiden winner at Belmont first out in October, Takaful hasn’t matched that effort. He’s drawn a tough post, likes to use his speed in a race that includes other speed and was beaten a city block in his last out. Positives include a sparkling :59 4/5 bullet at Palm Meadows Feb. 25 and hustling Paco Lopez in the irons to replace Jose Oritz (Practical Joke).

  1. Lookin for Eight          Casse                        Leperoux                         20-1

He just might be ‘lookin for air’ when the field turns for home in the Fountain of Truth. He’s drawn a difficult post position, will try two turns for the first time, and figures to be wide around the first turn. Add that up and he’d be a surprise to hit the board in here. He was nearly 9 lengths behind Battalion Runner first out and then broke his maiden by three lengths going seven furlongs last out.

Bottom Line:

#8 Irish War Cry is strictly the one to beat.

#6 Practical Joke might come back running and live up to his 2-year-old potential, but that still won’t be enough to defeat a razor sharp #8 Irish War Cry. The question in this handicapper’s head is…will #6 Practical Joke finish second or third?

#2 Gunnevera has earned respect as a hard-trier and if #6 Practical Joke doesn’t fire he could close for second. At the very least, he must be used in the three and four holes of exotics.

Suggested $1 Superfecta Play ($24):

First: #8 Irish War Cry with

Second: #2 Gunnevera and #6 Practical Joke

Third: #2 Gunnevera, #6 Practical Joke, #7 Three Rules and #9 Made You Look

Fourth: #2 Gunnevera, #4 Talk Logistics, #5 Beasley, #6 Practical Joke, #7 Three Rules and #9 Made You Look

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Fountain of Truth

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