HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Chadds Ford Stable’s Union Rags and Starlight Racing’s Algorithms are widely-regarded as the one-two choices for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and they will be the favorites in a field of eight 3-year-olds drawn for Sunday’s $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) going 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, easily the strongest field assembled so far this season on the Triple Crown trail.
Jockey Julien Leparoux replaces Javier Castellano as the rider of Union Rags for trainer Michael Matz as Castallano opted to ride Algorithms for trainer Todd Pletcher. A Kentucky homebred colt by Dixie Union, Union Rags won his first three career starts impressively, including the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 by 5 ¼ lengths.
That performance sent him into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5 as the 11-to-10 favorite and he appeared headed to victory in the stretch while racing greenly, but fell a head short finishing second to front-running Hansen, later losing the Eclipse vote to that rival as well.
“He’s as ready as he could possibly be other than running in a race,” said trainer Michael Matz of Union Rags preparation. “From the time he spent taking it easy at Skara Glen Farm in Wellington (Palm Beach County) early this year until he came back to us at Palm Meadows he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s hit every workout right on schedule. He’s grown up and matured. He must be close to 17 hands.”
Algorithms has won all three of his career starts, most recently a five-length score over Hansen in the one-mile Holy Bull Stakes (G3) on Jan. 29 with Castellano aboard to thrust him into the national spotlight. The $175,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Bernardini won his debut at Belmont in early June and a 6 ½ furlongs allowance here on Dec. 16 over highly-regarded Consortium.
The powerful Pletcher stable this season is very deep in potential Derby prospects and will also be represented by E. Paul Robsham Stable’s Florida homebred Discreet Dancer in the Fountain of Youth with jockey John Velazquez to ride after Castellano rode him to victory in his only two career starts at this meet.
A son of Discreet Cat, Discreet Dancer developed an immediate fan base when he won his debut here on Dec. 3 by 9 ¾ lengths while setting a track record of 1:02:34 for 5 ½ furlongs. He came back with another dazzling performance to win a one-mile allowance by 5 ½ lengths on Jan. 7.
“I don’t like running two horses against each other ever, especially two very talented colts that are undefeated. One of them is going to have a loss after this race, and you hate that,” said Pletcher, who’s clicking at a win-rate approaching 40 percent. “But at the same time, I think it’s best for each horse’s development – that’s mainly where our focus is, not so much just about this weekend, but hopefully moving forward, as well.”
Bidding for redemption in the Fountain of Youth will be Robert LaPenta’s Casual Trick with jockey Corey Nakatani flying in to ride for trainer Nick Zito. A son of Bernardini, Casual Trick was highly-rated among potential Derby contenders when finishing a game second by a half-length in the 1 1/16 miles Gulfstream Park Derby here on New Year’s Day after an impressive maiden victory at Churchill Downs in November.
However, Casual Trick disappointed his fans and connections when tiring to last of eight as the favorite in a talented allowance field on Jan. 29, a race won by Todd Pletcher-trainer El Padrino. The track was rated ‘good’ that day and Zito has said he believes his colt just didn’t handle the surface and is dismissing the performance giving him another chance at this level Sunday.
A. Steven Miles, Jr.’s Neck ‘n Neck is an intriguing prospect for trainer Ian Wilkes as he comes back from a deceptively good try finishing fifth in the Sam Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 4, beaten 2 ¾ lengths for it all with a very wide trip. Jockey Jose Lezcano rides Neck ‘n Neck, a son of Flower Alley that finished second to Discreet Dancer in the Jan. 7 allowance at Gulfstream.
Completing the field for the 68th edition of the Fountain of Youth are Jacks or Better Farm’s Fort Loudon, fourth in the Holy Bull for trainer Stanley Gold and jockey Rajiv Maragh to ride; Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff’s Csaba, a two-time winner at Calder and jockey Paco Lopez aboard for trainer Phil Gleaves; and Klaravich Stable William Lawrence’s News Pending, Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Dale Romans. .
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