Edited Gulfstream Park release:
Commissioner and Top Billing, who filled the exacta in a Gulfstream allowance on January 3, will each be making their stakes debuts in what figures to be a salty edition of the Grade II, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park Saturday.
A field of 13 were entered for the 1 1/16-miles test, with Commissioner and Grade I winner We Miss Artie both representing the barn of six-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
A WinStar Farm homebred, Commissioner broke his maiden in his second start going nine furlongs at Saratoga on August 28. The son of A.P. Indy didn’t see afternoon action again until January 3, but the lengthy layoff proved no impediment when he prevailed in what Pletcher termed “a stakes-quality” 1 1/8-miles allowance race over Top Billing.
“After he broke his maiden, (WinStar President) Elliott (Walden) and I looked at the schedule and said there’s basically nowhere to run a horse like this around two turns until the Remsen, so we made a decision at that point to give him a little break,” Pletcher explained. “We sent him back to WinStar with a 3-year-old campaign in mind.
“He’s an A.P. Indy, and you don’t necessarily anticipate those horses being July 2-year-olds. He was able to break his maiden at Saratoga, and he’s a horse that we’ve always felt would improve at longer distances.”
Commissioner will be reunited with jockey John Velazquez, who rode the colt to victory at Saratoga. He will break from the rail, with We Miss Artie alongside in post two.
We Miss Artie carried Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s colors to victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October prior to finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. In his only start since, the son of Artie Schiller came up a head short in the Kitten’s Joy Stakes on the Gulfstream grass on January 19. He will be ridden by jockey Joe Bravo in the Fountain of Youth. The 3-year-old will carry 122 pounds, six more than both Commissioner and Top Billing.
Twelve months ago, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey had his first Fountain of Youth winner when the improving Orb dashed past the then-unbeaten Violence from the Todd Pletcher barn. Orb went on to give McGaughey his first Kentucky Derby triumph and Top Billing invoked many comparisons to his former stablemate when he captured a 1 1/16-miles allowance race on the undercard of the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes on January 25.
Drawn in post 12, the son of Curlin will have regular rider Joel Rosario in the irons. Top Billing had his final serious move for the Fountain of Youth Monday morning, covering an easy half-mile move in :50 2/5 at Payson Park.
“I think he is going in the right direction,” McGaughey said. “I think he’s doing good, he looks good, and everything’s in order. He’s coming along – he’s getting more in tune with what we want him to do. He used to work on a long rein, but now he gets more into it. I think we’re right on schedule. Everyone seemed to be pleased.”
Wildcat Red, who drew off impressively in the Grade III Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream on February 1 for trainer Jose Garoffalo, will break from the four hole in the Fountain of Youth. The Florida-bred son of D’wildcat has hit the wire first in four of five career starts for owner Honors Stable. He was beaten a head by General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, and the latter will also be in the mix on Saturday from post five. Owned by J. Armando Rodriguez, the Mike Maker-trained colt will have the services of leading rider Javier Castellano.
Chuck and Maribeth Sandford’s Almost Famous, the fourth-place finisher in the Holy Bull Stakes, drew post eight for the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Pat Byrne will give a leg up to jockey Calvin Borel on Saturday.
Trainer Mark Casse announced earlier Monday that Holy Bull runner-up Conquest Titan would bypass the Fountain of Youth and point for the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 29.
“His last race, he came out of it good but I thought he lost a few pounds,” Casse said. “He worked really well last week and he trained great this morning, but we can’t make all the dances. He’s just kind of an average-sized horse, and the Fountain of Youth is going to come up tough. We’re always at a disadvantage with him going a mile and a sixteenth, especially with a speed-favoring track. We’re just going to wait for the Florida Derby.”
Also in the Fountain of Youth field are Medal Count (Joe Rocco Jr.), Casiguapo (Jose Lezcano), C. Zee (Edgard Zayas), Best Plan Yet (Paco Lopez), Our Caravan (Corey Lanerie), Hesinfront (Abdiel Jaen) and East Hall (Juan Leyva).
The 68th running of the Fountain of Youth will offer Kentucky Derby-qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers.