Wilkes Looking for Cooperation in Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth
By Ed Gray
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Buoyed by Neck ‘n Neck’s second-place finish behind Discreet Dancer at Gulfstream Park in a Jan. 7 allowance, trainer Ian Wilkes sent the son of Flower Alley to Tampa Bay Downs to test stakes company in the Sam Davis (G3) on Feb. 4.
Unfortunately, Neck ‘n Neck didn’t cooperate in his first step on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), finishing a never-contending fifth under jockey Jose Lezcano.
“He didn’t help the rider. He wouldn’t go between horses. When Jose asked him to go between horses, he was reluctant to do that,” Wilkes said. “He was not focusing on what he’s supposed to be doing. You can’t make any mistakes to beat good horses.”
Due to his reluctance to go between horses, Lezcano had no other choice but to swing seven-wide on the turn into the homestretch. The Kentucky-bred colt was able close five positions and to come within 2 ¾ lengths of victorious Battle Hardened. In an effort to make Neck ‘n Neck more cooperative, Wilkes will add blinkers for Sunday’s $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth.
Encouraged by Neck ‘n Neck’s workouts with blinkers, Wilkes made the decision to go ahead and take on the top-rated 3-year-olds in the Fountain of Youth, which attracted the Todd Pletcher-trained undefeated duo of Discreet Dancer and Algorithms, as well as Champagne (G1) victor Union Rags.
“He’s a big strong colt. We need to find out if he can run with these horses. These are the best horses in the country. If he can run with them, then we know we belong,” Wilkes said. “Off that last race, we got no indication (of his standing among 3-year-olds). That’s why I said, ‘Let’s go here; let’s find out where we are.’ After the race, I can talk with the owner and say, ‘OK, we need a little more time or a little more conservative route,’ or ‘we can handle these boys. Let’s keep on proceeding.’”
Neck ‘n Neck broke his maiden around two turns at Churchill Downs prior to finishing five lengths behind Discreet Dancer in the Jan. 7 one-turn, one-mile allowance. Although his rail position could be viewed as a positive considering the short run to the first turn in the 1 1/16-mile stakes, Wilkes would have preferred that his colt drew further outside.
“I would have liked the three or four hole. That would give you more options than the rail,” Wilkes said. “But that’s what we’ve been dealt, so we have to play the cards we’ve been dealt.”
Lezcano will have the return mount aboard Neck ‘n Neck.