Soldat Convincing In Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – When Kiaran McLaughlin shipped his stable to Florida this winter he brought with him a colt that was a proven star on turf. But the lure of the Kentucky Derby is so strong that the New York-based trainer couldn’t resist the urge to give Soldat another chance to prove himself on dirt.
After watching Soldat post a convincing gate-to-wire victory in the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park Saturday, McLaughlin will have a serious Kentucky Derby contender when his stable ships out of Florida in April.
Soldat ($4.80) was in control right from the start of the 1-1/8-mile stakes, grabbing the early lead from his rail post position to set the pace. Pressed by 80-1 long shot El Grayling and stalked by To Honor and Serve along the backstretch, Soldat relaxed nicely under Alan Garcia and continued to show the way into the far turn. As El Grayling began to retreat, Soldat was challenged on the turn into the homestretch by To Honor and Serve to his outside and a three-wide Gourmet Dinner.
Just as the race seemed to be in question, Soldat, the 7-5 favorite, spurted away to a clear lead in the stretch and crossed the finish line two lengths ahead of Gourmet Dinner and jockey Ramon Dominguez. To Honor and Serve, the 8-5 second choice ridden by John Velazquez, finished third in his seasonal debut, 4-3/4 lengths hehind Gourmet Dinner and 2-1/2 lengths ahead of Bowman’s Causeway.
“I just went to the lead and tried to slow it down as much as possible,” Garcia said. “My horse just kept on going today. I don’t think anyone was going to get by us today the way he ran. He was really good today.”
Soldat ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:50 after setting quarter-mile fractions of :24 1/5, :47 4/5, 1:12 2/5 and 1:37.
“It’s on to the Florida Derby now,” said McLaughlin, whose colt captured an allowance race over a sloppy track at Gulfstream in his 2011 debut. “He’s always done everything right and today we got the fast track we wanted”
McLaughlin’s confidence in Soldat is boosted by his satisfaction with the scheduling of his races at Gulfstream this winter.
“The timing of the program here is perfect for us – five weeks from now to the Florida Derby and another five weeks to the Kentucky Derby (May 7),” McLaughlin said.
If Soldat is able to capture the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on April 3, he would be eligible to sweep the Preakness 5.5 bonus series, which offers $5.5 million in bonuses to the connections of a 3-year-old that is able to win the Holy Bull (G3) or the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth before going on to win the Florida Derby and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20.
Soldat finished second on dirt in the first two races of his career last year before breaking his maiden on the Saratoga turf course in the With Anticipation Stakes (G3). Two starts later, the son of War Front finished a troubled second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs.
His victory Saturday was worth $240,000, boosting his career earnings to $554,3000.
Gourmet Dinner, who saved ground while tracking Soldat along the rail for three-quarters of a mile, put in a solid run through the stretch but was no match for Soldat.
“The race set up good for us, we were in a good spot. I would have liked to have just a little more speed in the race,” said Dominguez, who rode the Delta Jackpot (G3) winner for the first time. “I can’t take anything away from the winner. He was very good today.”
Bill Mott-trained To Honor and Serve, who had posted front-running Grade 2 victories in the Nashua and Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct to conclude his 2-year-old campaign, was clearly not at his best while coming off a three-month layoff.
“I thought he ran very well. He settled really well going down the backside. He ranged up to the leader on the far turn and finished well, just didn’t have the closing kick he usually does,” Dominguez said. “I think, off the layoff, that is to be expected. Overall, though, I thought he ran teriffic.
Flashpoint Dazzles the Field in Hutcheson Stakes
After Flashpoint put on a spectacular show while winning the $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G2) Saturday, his trainer started to dream big for the lightly raced 3-year-old colt.
While other trainers might have been scoffed at for mentioning a start in the Florida Derby for a horse with just two races as experience, people will take Richard Dutrow Jr.’s lofty thoughts very seriously.
The racing world remembers well that Dutrow saddled Big Brown for a victory in the 2008 Florida Derby in only his third start before winning the Kentucky Derby in his fourth start.
“You have to be excited after a horse does that,” said Dutrow following Flashpoint’s dazzling 7 ¼-length triumph in the
Flashpoint ($15.80), who scored by more than six lengths in a front-running debut victory at Aqueduct on Jan. 15, was beaten to the lead by 3-5 favorite Travelin Man and pressed the pace past fractions of :22 and :44 2/5 for the first half mile. After straightening out for the stretch drive, Flashpoint asserted his will and talent to put away the favorite and drew off to his second straight easy victory.
“The only other horse I was concerned about was the [Travelin Man]. We broke good, had a good trip. I didn’t want to move too soon because this horse likes company,” said winning jockey Cornelio Velasquez, whose mount ran seven furlongs in 1:22.. “In the stretch, I didn’t really hit him. He was very good today.”
Although no match for the winner, Travelin Man, an impressive debut winner in his only other start, finished three lengths clear of Little Drama, a 50-1 long shot ridden by Joe Bravo.
“In a perfect world we would have liked to switch post positions with the winner,” said Travelin Man’s trainer Todd Pletcher, whose colt was ridden by John Velazquez.. “But for just his second start and being out on the lead going pretty fast, I thought it was a big effort.”
Flashpoint, who was purchased as a yearling by Peachtree Stables for $100,000, earned $90,000 for his victorious stakes debut.
“He was sensational the first time and sensational today. I thought he’d be in front, but broke a step slow and sat off Todd’s horse, so I’m happy to know that he can do that,” Dutrow said. “We’ll discuss the options, including the Florida Derby. Personally, I like the seven-eighths to a mile-and-an-eighth angle, but we’ll see. I would say his next start will be here. You never know if they can go long until they do it, but naturally with the (Kentucky) Derby coming up everybody thinks about it.”
Arch Traveler a Florida Derby Possible
Earlier on the card, Arch Traveler ($6.20) stamped himself as a Florida Derby possible while capturing a stakes-quality allowance race for 3-year-olds by three-quarters of a length. The son of Sky Mesa closely stalked a slow early pace under Jose Lezcano before gaining the lead leaving the turn into the homestretch and holding off the late bid by Nacho Business and jockey Joe Bravo.
“He’s nominated. We’ll see if they get some defections along the way and he kicks in and does extra good,” trainer James Jerkens said. “We’ll certainly give it a thought.”
The victory was Arch Traveler’s second straight at Gulfstream and first around two turns.
“The pace was slow, and I like to see that. I was hoping he’d get a two-turn race where they didn’t fly 100 miles and hour the first part and then collapse at the end,” said trainer James Jerkens, whose colt ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:52 3/5. “You can’t tell anything that way. It was good. He looks like a horse that doesn’t do more than he has to.”