It seems like the Gulfstream Park set of Kentucky Derby prep races - the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby - are often the most interesting. We've seen memorable performances in each in recent years, and there is never a shortage of good horses enjoying the winter sunshine and looking to book their ticket to Churchill Downs. In Saturday's Fountain of Youth we have the deepest and most compelling set of horses yet assembled for a prep race this year. The winner of the race will earn enough points to start in the Derby, and the runner-up will at least come close, so this race is very important. Here's how the field sets up (odds are the track morning line):
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Irish War Cry, Joel Rosario, 5/2: The Holy Bull was supposed to be a cruise for two-year-old champion Classic Empire, but this colt didn't get the memo. He was very impressive in the win there. Winning that race isn't a huge boost here, though - while an incredible nine of the last 10 winners of the Fountain of Youth had made their prior start on this same Gulfstream Park track, only two of those had won the Holy Bull. This colt is unbeaten in three outings, but the first two were at Laurel Park, so they are all but meaningless. Now he needs to back up the effort he had last time out. He's a son of Curlin, so neither his quality or his ability to handle this distance is any question. A worthy favorite.
Practical Joke, Jose Ortiz, 3/1: This impressive colt won two Grade 1 races in New York last year and then capped his season by finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That was at the start of November, and this is the first time we have seen him since. Chad Brown trains the colt, so he is in very good hands, and he has looked good in training. He doesn't know this track, though, and this is a long layoff to shake off. He's a brilliant colt, but Classic Empire showed in the Holy Bull how hard it can be to carry over two-year-old form to the three-year-old season, so you need to be sure the price is right if you want to bet him. You also have to wonder if he can handle this distance - he seems like a one-turn miler to me.
Gunnevera, Javier Castellano, 7/2: This colt was second in the Holy Bull last time out to prove he belongs here, and his win before that in the Delta Jackpot was breathtaking in its ease. There is some entertaining mystery around his current form - his last work was done in the fog, so they were unable to record a time for it. He wasn't quite good enough last time out, but I'm not sure we saw of all him there. This is his fifth graded stakes outing, and he won the first and third, so the pattern would suggest he is due for a win.
Three Rules, Luis Saez, 12/1: This horse is sharp right now - he fired a bullet on the Gulfstream track on Friday in his last work for this race. He won his first five career races at Florida but then underwhelmed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was runner-up in his seasonal debut in the Swale. I like his current form, but he hasn't yet shown he is ready to play with the big boys. He does get Luis Saez in the saddle for this race, though, which is a very positive change. Tough horse to call in a tough race.
Made You Look, John Velazquez, 10/1: Todd Pletcher is always a threat in prep races - though much less so in the actual Derby. That being said, it's hard to get excited about this horse. He has been running on turf up to this race and hasn't exactly set the world on fire doing so. Finally one that is easy to pass on.
Takaful, Paco Lopez, 12/1: This horse was a decent third in the Remsen at the end of November at Aqueduct but was an irrelevant seventh in the Jerome next time out to start his three year old year. I just don't see how he belongs here.
Huracan Americo, Edgar Prado, 50/1: Now this is interesting. This colt, a son of Belmont and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Drosselmeyer, is making his North American debut here. He has been running in Peru where, last time out, he won the third leg of the Peruvian Quadruple Crown, the Derby Nacional. Tomcito, who ran for the same trainer as this horse, also won that race in 2007 and then came and ran third in the Florida Derby behind the freakish Big Brown. So we know that this horse could at least theoretically be competitive. Or he could be completely hopeless. Isn't handicapping fun when you just have to guess? At this price, though, he could be worth a bet just for the chance at bragging rights.
Beasley, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6/1: If you want an intriguing horse at a decent price, this might be it - as long as his post time odds climb from where they are now. He was a runner up in an allowance race on this track and at this distance last time out. He fired a bullet at four furlongs last time out. And his sire, Preakness winner Shackleford, was beaten by a short nose in the Florida Derby on this track. He has good connections, too. He needs to be better than he has been, but this is only his fourth start, so that is certainly possible. He could get a piece.
Lookin for Eight, Julien Leparoux, 20/1: He's a son of Lookin For Lucky out of a Mineshaft mare, so the breeding is great. And that's about all there is to like. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream in his second try last time out. Massive step up in class against a tough field. Nope.
Talk Logistics, Joe Bravo, 20/1: He was fourth in the Holy Bull last time out, and if anything that result was flattering. He's just not particularly good, and that makes it very tough to care about him. Pass.
Quinientos, Marcos Meneses, 50/1: The good news, I guess, is that he has run eight times, so he is plenty experienced - and he knows this track well. The bad news, though, is that the first seven of those races were in maiden events. After finally breaking his maiden, he went in an unlisted stakes and finished fourth. Hopelessly outclassed.
The pick: I hate picking a favorite, but Irish War Cry is the choice here. He looked really professional last time out. He got a perfect trip, and may not here, but I am okay with that. In a tough field he's the choice. I'll use him to win and on top of Beasley, Gunnevera, Three Rules and, for kicks, Huracan Americo in exotics.
This Saturday is a magnificent day for the ponies, and Doc's Sports expert Raphael Esparza has picks in both big stakes races - click here for free picks for these races - the same ones that paying members get - and the sign up is hassle free and no credit card is needed. Not only do we get one stakes race but we actually get to see two stakes races this Saturday. The first one is the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and the stake race is the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
We all know that the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race of them all, but the BEST value is in all the Kentucky Derby prep races before the big event. Raphael Esparza; Former Race and Sports Book director from the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas , has all the inside connections and the years of experience. Build your Kentucky Derby bankroll with the pony expert. Last year Esparza cashed with multiple stakes races as he hit big in the Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Esparza is coming off some nice cashes at the Fair Grounds last weekend, and he is looking for another Winning Saturday at the track.
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