Live In-Race wagering is a ‘thing’ somewhere on this gambling planet. Thankfully, it’s not a proposition offered at Gulfstream Park. Good. Because if Fountain of Youth attendees had been able to wager midway through last Saturday’s featured race they would have lost their case Joe’s Stone Crab money on favorite Good Magic.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ was 3/5 before the race and, as the ‘Fountain field entered the far turn, would have been an even shorter price. Up front, Promises Fulfilled was moving well enough, with speedy Strike Power in pursuit. Early fractions seemed honest enough, especially considering that the leader had been asked to out-foot the field from the nine-hole into the first turn. Surely, that maneuver had required an expense of precious energy that might be needed in the race’s final quarter mile. Three-wide in the catbird seat, sat Good Magic and Jose Ortiz. The colt was moving smoothly, jock patiently poised in the saddle, hands still. ‘Full of horse,’ as they say.
Approaching the stretch, Promises Fulfilled and jockey Irad Ortiz continued to cruise, unchallenged for the lead. Suddenly, as if realizing that the cat had escaped the bag, Luis Saez asked Strike Power to attack the leader. Request denied. Saez then demanded more from his mount, reins flapping, arms flailing as if Saez were tossing pizza dough.
The Ortiz brothers—Irad and Jose—are the most popular tandem in the Sunshine State since Mickey and Minnie relocated to Orlando decades ago. They’ve taken Gulfstream Park by storm this season--their first full-time engagement at the Hallandale oval--and on Fountain of Youth day, the pair accounted for victories in 8 of 14 races—Irad 5 and Jose 3. At this writing, Irad is second in the standings behind defending champ Luis Saez--33 wins behind with 197 fewer mounts. The other Ortiz is in fourth place. Between them they have accounted for 126 wins in 587 mounts, an outstanding combined 21% winning percentage.
You’d think that after four-plus decades playing the races, a person would know something about the subject. And you’d be wrong. That whole 10,000-hours-to-become-an-expert thing is bull. I’ve dedicated way more time than that to my chosen craft and still feel like a novice, a rookie, wet behind the ears.
Before the Fountain of Youth, yours truly was positive Good Magic would win. And here’s why: He’s the 2-year-old champ and dominant victor of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’s trained by multiple Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown, by Curlin and bred to both handle a distance and to improve with age. He also had trained superbly for the race-- outworking recent older-graded-stakes winner Economic Model.
In a vacuum none of those factors guarantee victory. Combined they seemed overpowering, especially when compared to the accomplishments and running styles of Good Magic’s eight Fountain of Youth foes. Talent-wise he seemed to have them over a barrel and there appeared to be enough early pace in the race to set things up for the champ’s late charge. Guess that’s why the run the races.
In the end, nothing could have been further from reality. Promises Fulfilled made the lead without argument and then threw 24 and change quarters at pursuers until he galloped home well in front. Good Magic stalked a bit wide but within striking distance throughout, loomed as a threat on the turn for home and then had zero to offer when the real running started.
What happened? According to reporting by Jay Privman at drf.com, a day after the race, Brown had little to add by way of explanation. He admitted his charge had come back blowing hard, suggesting that the colt wasn’t fit enough. Could be, I suppose. ‘Magic hadn’t raced since early November. However, according to stats provided by Thoro-Graph, Chad Brown has won with 26% of 765 runners returning from 90+ day layoffs. In short, he knows how to get one ready. Plus, I’d be more inclined to buy the ‘unfit’ alibi if Good Magic had exerted himself at any point in the race. Instead, he pretty much just galloped along behind a casual leader and then failed to fire when asked. Is this horseplayer to assume that North America’s leading trainer for the last two consecutive years saddled the 2-year-old champ a quarter mile short on conditioning? Not likely.
Other possible explanations for the flat performance include bleeding or breathing difficulty. But Brown ruled out those excuses saying that the colt had scoped ‘clean.’ Disdain for a racing surface can produce similar results and becomes evident only when a horse fully exerts himself. Without agreeable footing wheels spin and go nowhere.
It’s also possible that, like so many top 2-year-olds before him, Good Magic hasn’t adequately transitioned from age 2 to 3. However, nothing other than his Fountain of Youth dud suggests that’s the case, so it’s dangerous to immediately jump to that conclusion. The Blue Grass at Keeneland is the colt’s next start. It’s a week later than the Florida Derby and, obviously, run over a different surface than the Fountain of Youth. That gives the colt ample time to recover, Brown the opportunity to train him more aggressively and horseplayers another evaluation before Louisville.
This Saturday, a trio of soph races dot the calendar, highlighted by a heavyweight confrontation between Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie in the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Aqueduct’s Gotham and the Tampa Bay Derby are additional Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying point events.
This expert likes McKinzie to win the San Felipe. Of course, yours truly loved Good Magic both before and during the Fountain of Youth.
So, there’s that.