Commissioner, Top Billing Top Field Of 13 in Saturday's Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2)
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Saturday's $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park attracted a field of 13 3-year-olds when entries were taken today. Commissioner and Top Billing, who filled the exacta in a Gulfstream allowance on January 3, will be making their debuts in stakes company in the 1 1/16-miles contest.
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 sweep both the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1). McGaughey will saddle Top Billing on Saturday, while Pletcher will field Commissioner and We Miss Artie.
Both Commissioner and We Miss Artie prepped for the Fountain of Youth with half-mile works on Sunday at Palm Meadows. Commissioner covered the distance in :49.10, while We Miss Artie stopped the clock in :48 flat.
"Both horses breezed really well and I think we're ready to go," Pletcher said. "Hopefully, we can turn the tables this year."
A WinStar Farm homebred, Commissioner earned his diploma 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 the new year, but the lengthy layoff proved no impediment when he prevailed in what Pletcher termed "a stakes-quality allowance race." “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.”
Commissioner is a son of the stakes-winning mare Flaming Heart, making him a half-brother to 2014 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) runner-up Laugh Track.
“I think he’s progressed a lot from the summer," Pletcher added. "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 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October prior to finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita. In his only start since, the Ontario-bred 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.
Top Billing emerged from his defeat at the hands of Commissioner to post a last-to-first victory in an 8 1/2-furlong allowance at Gulfstream three weeks later. Drawn in post 12, the classically bred son of Curlin will have regular rider Joel Rosario in the irons.
"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."
Wildcat Red, who drew off impressively in the Hutcheson Stakes (G3) 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 $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream on January 25, drew post eight for the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Pat Byrne will give a leg up to jockey Calvin Borel on Saturday.
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.