His first post is at 3:28 pm EST.
It's a big day today. Though there are earlier Derby preps, we think that the big race today, the Fountain of Youth Stakes from Gulfstream Park, really marks the beginning of Kentucky Derby season. The Run for the Roses will be run exactly nine weeks from today, and in those nine weeks, some horses will fall by the wayside, and some will step forward and mark themselves as legitimate contenders. The process is fun, can be profitable, and it all starts in South Florida today.
The Fountain of Youth headlines an incredible card at Gulfstream Park: there are 14 races, and nine of them are stakes. We cannot cover them all, of course, but we'll cover as many as we can, plus one we like from Aqueduct. We expect fast dirt and firm turf everywhere; let's go.
Gulfstream Park, Race 14, 6:04 pm ET
Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Fountain of Youth drew a full field of twelve, and there was much griping about that fact over the past few days, as several colts who appear to have little chance drew inside posts, and several top contenders, 10-Shotsky, 11-Ete Indian, and 12-Chance It, were marooned outside. This matters, as the races at today's mile and a sixteenth distance at Gulfstream Park start very close to the first turn, and the horses with the outside posts have a very difficult time avoiding getting hung very wide around it. Through Thursday, in races a mile or longer on the Gulfstream main track, the horses in posts 10 through 12 have a combined two wins, from 38 starts: this 5% winning percentage is a good indication of the challenge these horses on the outside face.
The headliner in the Fountain of Youth field is 2-1 morning line favorite, 5-Dennis' Moment. He looked like something special as a juvenile last year, winning a maiden race at Ellis Park by almost 20 lengths, and then taking the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in very fast time. In his last race, he flopped as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, nearly falling down when the gates opened, and never running much after that, finishing last in the field of eight. We expect Dennis' Moment to run better today than he ran in the Breeders Cup -- he could hardly run worse -- but we still wouldn't bet him with counterfeit money. Even throwing out his race in the Breeders Cup, he has run more slowly, in terms of speed figures, as his races have gotten longer, and when young horses start trending this way, they almost never reverse the trend. Dennis' Moment is obviously a very fast and very talented horse, but he looks to us like a sprinter whose inability to run in route races will make him a Kentucky Derby non-contender. We are firmly against him today, especially at a short price. We are expecting a fast pace in the Fountain of Youth, partly because Shotski, Ete Indian, and Chance It, who are all speed horses, will have to sprint early to deal with their outside post positions, but also because there are quite a few colts in the field who are used to being on or near the lead. That makes us look for a stalker, a mid-pack runner who will gain a good tactical position, but also has the ability to win a race of this caliber. We think that is 7-Country Grammer, who starts for Chad Brown, and who will be ridden by Javier Castellano. He has run just twice in his life, but he won the last race the way we think he will win this one, by rallying strongly from off the pace. He also has a pedigree and long-striding running style that both suggest that he will get better as the races get longer. Another plus is that the maiden race he won has turned out to be a key race, with several horses who finished behind him that day coming back to win. We like his prospects, and we love the fact that he's 15-1. We will bet him to win and to place. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 14, $30 to win / $20 to place on 7-Country Grammer.
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, 3:28 pm ET
Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes, 1 3/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies
Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 3:59 pm ET
Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes, 1 mile, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
These two stakes both feature 3-year-old fillies, and we like a runner in each. In the Herecomesthebride, our pick is 6-In a Hurry, who starts for trainer Shug McGaughey. She makes her stakes debut today, but she has won two in a row, and her running style and pedigree both suggest that she will get better as the distances get longer. She's a stretch runner, and we think she mows them all down late at 4-1.
We're going with the chalk in the Davona Dale: 6-Spice is Nice is for trainer Todd Pletcher. She has only one career start, but it was a good one: she won a maiden race at Gulfstream on January 12 by an eye-popping 12 lengths. A repeat of that performance will win this -- and we actually think she is going to run better. At 7/5, she doesn't offer much value in the win pools, but we will combine her with In a Hurry in the daily double that covers Races 9 and 10. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $30 Double, 6 (In a Hurry) with 6 (Spice is Nice).
Gulfstream Park, Race 12, 5:01 pm ET
Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile, 1 mile, Dirt, 4 & Up
There's a lot of speed in the Gulfstream Park Mile, which drew a field of eleven. Because of that, we are going with a closer -- make that two closers. We like 2-Haikal, the winner of last year's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, but we like 6-Expert even more. Expert has hit the board in five of six career starts at this distance, winning three of them, coming from off the pace every time. We think that both will pass the tiring speedsters, and will bet Expert to win at 8-1, and play them both in the exacta. The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 12, $35 to win on 6-Expert, $5 exacta box, 2 (Haikal) with 6 (Expert). The exacta box will cost $10.
Gulfstream Park, Race 13, 5:32 pm ET
Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes, 1 3/8 miles, Turf, 4 & Up
There is a very, very impressive field in the 2020 edition of the Mac Diarmida: there are some classy horses in the group of ten that will go to the starting gate, but we think that 6-Zulu Alpha, who starts for trainer Mike Maker, outclasses all of them. He is in razor-sharp form, having won the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf over this Gulfstream Park course in January, and also won this race last year. We see a repeat today, and will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 13, $50 to win on 6-Zulu Alpha.
Aqueduct, Race 8, 4:50 pm ET
$100,000 Bernardini Stakes, 1 5/16 miles, dirt, 4 & Up
The Bernardini, which is today's featured race at the Big A, drew a good field of nine. It's at the oddball distance of 1 5/16, or 110 yards longer than a mile and a quarter.
The main track at Aqueduct was speed-favoring yesterday, the only day they raced this week,and we expect that trend to continue today. That makes 7-Leitone a strong play here: he has the most natural early speed, is likely to get the lead, and because of the distance, we think the jockeys on the other horses will probably let him have it. And on a loose and easy lead, we don't think anyone is going to catch him. We will bet Leitone to win at 3-1. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $35 to win on 7-Leitone.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and, as always, good luck at the windows.