Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby – The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes – By Eric Solomon

The champ is back, as Forte (#4) is the headliner in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. He ended his two year old campaign with three consecutive Grade 1 wins, scoring in the Hopeful, the Breeders’ Futurity, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He’ll meet a familiar rival, as Blazing Sevens (#6) will try to avenge his two defeats at the hands of the two year old champion. 

They’ll be facing eight other rivals in a race that has produced five Derby winners, Tim Tam, Kauai King, Spectacular Bid, Thunder Gulch, and most recently, Orb. Todd Pletcher is one of three trainers that have won this race three times, and he’s trying to secure a record winning 4th victory with the favorite here. 

The first post for the marathon 14 race program is set for 11:00 (ET) with the Fountain of Youth scheduled to go off at 5:43 (ET).

Gulfstream Park Saturday 3/4/23, Race 14: The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes

100 Total Derby points (50/20/15/10/5)

1 – General Jim (6-1 ML): The third choice in this race is an interesting runner, making his 6th career start and his first two-turn dirt route. He does, however, boast a pair of wins at this distance on the turf. He debuted for Shug McGaughey in a six furlong dirt sprint at Saratoga this summer. He ran again on closing weekend, beating eight rivals in a two-turn turf race there. He waited until the end of the Keeneland meet to face allowance types on the turf, where he won for the second time. That effort was good enough to earn a spot in the starting gate as the favorite in the Central Park Stakes at Aqueduct. He couldn’t overcome a wide trip when going five wide on the first turn and three to four wide on the second turf. He fought gamely to be third that day, behind Bat Flip and Dandy Handyman. His bad racing luck continued in the Mucho Macho Man, when he looked loaded, but was pinned behind horses with nowhere to run as the favorite. Shug opted to run him in the Grade 3 Swale instead of the Grade 3 Holy Bull on the same card last month. He faced a smaller group but wore down a dead game sprinter, Super Chow, to earn his first win on the dirt. He’s sired by Into Mischief and the dam, despite being sired by Curlion, was a talented turf sprinter. Her other two foals to race haven’t been much, but clearly he turned some heads at the sales, selling for $850K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. I see him as an interesting alternative to the favorite in this spot.


2 – Legacy Isle (20-1 ML): Speed is the name of his game, as he threw down the gauntlet in the Mucho Macho Man two back. He set aggressive fractions, and crossed the line first, but he was taken down for drifting out late. He was near the front end when breaking from Post 6 in the Holy Bull last month. He hit the front on the turn, but was swallowed up by both Bill Mott horses when finishing 4th that day. While he could move forward in his second two turn start, I don’t think he matches up with the best of this bunch. 


3 – Shadow Dragon (12-1 ML): I saw him as an interesting longshot for Bill Mott in the Holy Bull, and he was completely overlooked when he was sent off at 34-1. He bided his time at the back of a compact field, before swinging five wide with a powerful rally that came up just short. He was making his first start of the year, so he could have another forward move. He’s sired by Army Mule, who did his best work at one turn. His dam was sired by Jostle, who won the Grade 1 CCA Oaks when it was contested at 12 furlongs. However, her foals are winless in 12 dirt routes. I’m not as positive about his chances today as I was last month. 


4 – Forte (7-5 ML): The reigning Two Year Champion Male horse is back to start off his three year old campaign, in hopes of following the footsteps of Street Sense and Nyquist by pulling off the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby double. Pletcher has always been sharp with his runners off the layoff, winning 25% of the time over the last two years. Aside from his dull effort in the Sanford Stakes at the beginning of the Saratoga meet, he has won four times, with three of them coming in Grade 1 races. Making his seasonal debut in this race has always been a part of the plan, so everything appears to be on schedule. He’s defeated the best of his generation thus far and looks like he’s going to be tough once again. Having speed horses posted to the outside should help his cause here.  


5 – Il Miracolo (30-1 ML): Antonio Sano continues to swing for the fences with this Gun Runner colt. He wasn’t good enough in the Remsen, Mucho Macho Man, or the Holy Bull, all while facing fields inferior to this one. Him winning this race would be a bigger surprise than Built for Pleasure, who won this race in 1996 at 143-1. (A very underrated Tom Durkin race call by the way, if you’re interested in looking that race up on YouTube). 


6 – Blazing Sevens (7-2 ML): Todd Pletcher versus Chad Brown has been a consistent story line in East Coast racing for the last several years, and they’ll continue their rivalry by sending out their aces in this one. This son of Good Magic won his Grade 1 race in the Champagne Stakes when Forte took his show on the road to Keeneland. Forte had his number in both the Hopeful and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile though. I thought his 4th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup last November was better than it looked on paper though. He broke last after things got tight early on. He was near the back of the pack and ended up following Forte’s big move, but he didn’t corner as well as the champ, and he wasn’t able to sustain that bid late. Joel Rosario is going to pick up the mount for the first time today. He was at Oaklawn last weekend where he picked up a few wins. Perhaps those races could boost his confidence, because he has looked lost at times on this oval at this meet. Perhaps he’s improved enough to turn the tables, but I’m not sure I see that happening here. 


7 – Mage (8-1 ML): Every year at Gulfstream, it feels like we see a horse that runs a monster maiden race at Gulfstream, step up and try stakes company. That is the case with this son of Good Magic, making his second career start after a dominant performance on debut in a maiden special weight race on the Pegasus World Cup undercard at the end of January. The dam, Puca, was graded stakes placed on the dirt and a stakes winner on the turf. In an interesting footnote, she defeated the dam of Forte, Queen Caroline, in the Steve Pini Memorial Stakes at Suffolk Downs in September of 2017. While I’m not sure her son will have the same success against the son of her rival, I do think this horse is well-bred and could be any kind of runner. 


8 – Rocket Can (8-1 ML): The winner of the Holy Bull makes his second start of the season today. He started from post eight last time, and had no ill effects despite a wide trip that had him in the four path for the majority of the race. When his stablemate came down the outside, he was able to re-break and held on gamely for the victory. He’s been a better horse since going two turns on the dirt. This field is considerably deeper and I don’t think he can afford to take the overland route once again. 


9 – Cyclone Mischief (12-1 ML): He’s the third of three horses sired by Into Mischief in this race, of that trio, I see him as the one that might be better suited for one turn racing. His two starts at two turns both came in graded stakes company and neither were very good. He faded late at the Kentucky Jockey Club three starts ago after setting soft fractions. He was in a decent position in the Holy Bull, but was absolutely empty. He’s 12-1 on the morning line because he had a monster effort in between those races when clearing the N1X condition when going a one turn mile here back in January. He’s drawn poorly for this race with the horses starting practically on the first turn in 1 mile and 1/16 races at Gulfstream. He’ll be a pass for me in this race. 


10 – Dangerous Ride (30-1 ML): The most experienced runner in the field will be making his 10th career start in this race for trainer Carlos David. He’s gone two turns twice on the Tapeta, crossing the wire second both times. He was moved up to first in one of those races via disqualification, when facing Florida breds in stakes company back in November. He’s coming off a career best win when beating open N1X company in a seven furlong allowance race. While I think he’s going to struggle in this race, I do see him as a pace factor that will likely be hustled from the gate from his outside draw. That should ensure an honest tempo for the back markers to close into.


The Verdict: 4-1-7



If there was a time to try to beat a favorite like Forte (#4), I suppose this would be the time to do so. He’s making his first start off the layoff and doing so on a new track that can sometimes be challenging for closers. However, he’s clearly one of the better two year old prospects that we’ve had in the last several years, and he’s running for a barn that has great numbers off the layoff. In addition, I think the race shape looks very friendly for his first start of the year. This race has been the plan all along, and I think he’ll get the job done.


General Jim (#1) and Mage (#7) are the two that I think have the best chance of beating the favorite. General Jim had a few lousy trips before a strong effort last time in the Swale at seven furlongs. He’s a two time winner at this distance, albeit on grass. I think he’s got a sweet post position for the race that he wants to run.He should be able to save ground, while tucking in behind the runners that could be gunning for the front end. With the right trip, he could get first run on the favorite. 


Mage is a runner that could be any kind. He was dominant in his debut when going seven furlongs on the main track here last month. He’s bred to be a good runner that should be able to handle two turn racing on the dirt. Making his first start against winners while facing the reigning Two Year Old Champion is no easy feat though. 


Blazing Sevens (#6)is the runner that I’ll be trying to beat. He had a minor excuse last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That rough start cost him valuable position when facing a strong like Forte that day. He’s been working well enough at Payson Park, but Forte has had his number. Chad Brown hasn’t had a great meet here, and even though he’s a Grade 1 winner, I’d rather try to get a better price on General Jim or Mage, seeing as how he’s very likely to be a strong second choice in the wagering. 


We’ll have coverage of every North American Derby Points Race, along with plenty of coverage leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6th, 2023. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

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