Garrity's Saturday Stakes 2 picks Derby Prep races: The Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, Southwest at Oaklawn
Fire At Will, winning the Anticipation at Belmont in September, is Garrity's pick in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.NYRA / Chelsea Durand

Garrity's Saturday Stakes 2 picks Derby Prep races: The Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, Southwest at Oaklawn

The Southwest Stakes goes off at 5:58 pm EST. The Fountain of Youth at 6:10 pm.

Today is the day that the road to the Kentucky Derby gets serious. Two big preps, the Fountain of Youth in Florida and the Southwest Stakes in Arkansas, will be run, but perhaps more important than the races themselves are the entrants, with last year’s undefeated juvenile champion Essential Quality the headliner the Southwest, and Greatest Honor, a top-three contender on many Derby lists, favored in the Fountain of Youth.

Both are terrific races, and as we’re going to break them both down in a bit more depth than we usually do, we will dedicate a separate post to just these two races. For the rest of today’s plays, check out the other post.

Gulfstream Park, Race 14, 6:10 pm ET

Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

There are quite a few reasons why 8-Greatest Honor is the 9/5 favorite here. He won the Holy Bull Stakes by over five lengths, he is a long-striding, athletic colt, and his terrific pedigree (by Tapit, out of a Street Cry mare) suggests that he will thrive as the distances get longer. He’s also trained by Shug McGaughey, who is in the Hall of Fame and who won the Kentucky Derby with Orb in 2013, and therefore knows what it takes to get a horse to peak on the first Saturday in May.

But there is a problem with Greatest Honor, and it’s a big one: He’s not fast enough. While his win in the Holy Bull was visually impressive, it was slow: He earned a pedestrian 89 Beyer Speed Figure, and the only reason he looked so good doing it was because it was a pretty bad field behind him. Maybe he’s going to be better today than he was in the Holy Bull, but we doubt it, and at a short price, he’s a mammoth underlay and a play-against.

We think we can draw a line through much of the rest of the Fountain of Youth field. 3-Sososubtle, 5-Jirafales, 6-King’s Ovation, and 9-Tiz Tact Toe appear to completely overmatched. 2-Prime Factor finished a no-excuses third as the favorite in the Holy Bull, and while a win here would not be a total shock, he simply does not appear good enough. 7-Tarantino and 10-Papetu were also Holy Bull also-rans, and we are throwing them out on that basis alone. 1-Drain the Clock has speed, and will probably be a pace factor, but has never run around two turns before, and this is a very tough spot to find out whether or not he can do it.We are tossing all of these colts.

That leaves us with 4-Fire At Will, our pick to win the Fountain of Youth. He has four career starts, has won three of them, and he has improved in each of these starts, running better speed figures as he has matured and as the races have grown longer. That last part is huge, as when horses regress and run slower numbers as they stretch out, it almost always marks them as non-contenders at classic distances. That is decidedly not the case with Fire At WIll.

There are two concerns with Fire At Will. The first is that he is coming off a layoff, having last run at Keeneland in early November. We do not think that is much of a worry. The second issue, which is that he has run primarily on grass, is significant: can he transfer his turf form to dirt?

We think he can, in large part because he has already won on conventional dirt: he won the With Anticipation Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 2, a race that rain moved off the turf and onto the main track. We think he wins here, and stamps himself a legitimate Derby contender.

We will bet Fire At Will to win the Fountain of Youth Stakes at 7/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 14, $50 to win on 4-Fire At WIll.

Oaklawn Park, Race 10, 5:58 pm ET

Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Southwest drew a field of seven, but we think the race is going to be one to watch, not to bet. This is partly because of the weather -- the dirt course at Oaklawn was listed as muddy late Saturday morning, and there is rain in the forecast this afternoon -- but mostly because of the presence of 1-Essential Quality, who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile in his last start, and who is the current favorite in early Kentucky Derby betting. While it’s never a guarantee that a horse will be as good at 3 as he was at 2, both the pedigree and running style of Essential Quality mark him as a good candidate to keep moving forward. We also think while his win in the Breeders Cup Juvenile looked plenty good, it was actually better than it seems on paper, as he closed strongly on a track that was favoring speed horses pretty significantly. We think he’s the real deal, and while beating this field will not be that big a deal -- it’s a weak group -- we think he will win in a way that shows that he is at the head of this year’s group of 3-year-olds.

If we thought we could get his 3/2 morning line price, we would be betting enthusiastically on Essential Quality, but he figures to be more like 1/5 by post time, we will pass. Or mostly pass -- we’re supposed to make a bet on something, so we will throw a five-spot on his nose. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 10, $5 to win on 1-Essential Quality.

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