Most of the attention in Saturday's Grade II Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes is focused on Union Rags and Algorithms -- widely regarded as the top two Kentucky Derby contenders at this point.
One difficult decision was made about two weeks ago. Julien Leparoux replaces Javier Castellano as the rider of Union Rags for trainer Michael Matz -- but it's because Castallano opted to ride Algorithms for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Starlight Racing, and Matz said Leparoux had been campaigning hard to get the mount.
A Kentucky homebred colt by Dixie Union owned by Phyllis M. Wyeth's Chadds Ford Stable, Union Rags won his first three career starts impressively, including the Grade I Champagne Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths.
That performance sent him into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as the 11-to-10 favorite, and he appeared headed to victory in the stretch. But he raced greenly and fell a head short 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. “From the time he spent taking it easy at Skara Glen Farm in Wellington 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.”
Union Rags is the 2-1 second choice in the morning line set by Gulfstream Park oddsmaker Chuck Streva.
Algorithms has won all three of his career starts, most recently a five-length score over Hansen in the one-mile Grade III Holy Bull Stakes -- with Castellano aboard. The $175,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Bernardini won his debut at Belmont in early June and a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 16.
Algorithms is the 8-5 morning line favorite.
“The reason I went with Algorithms was because he has a start over the track, and Union Rags is making his first start of the year,” Streva explained. “Basically, that’s the reason I leaned the way I did.”
The powerful Pletcher stable will also be represented by Discreet Dancer, owned and bred in Florida by E. Paul Robsham Stable. Castellano also rode him to victory in his only two career starts, both at this meet. John Velazquez was named to replace Castellano.
A son of Discreet Cat, Discreet Dancer developed an immediate fan base when he won his 5 1/2-furlong debut on Dec. 3 by 9 3/4 lengths while setting a track record. He came back with another solid performance to win a one-mile allowance by 5 1/2 lengths on Jan. 7.
Discreet Dancer has been set at 3-1.
Bidding for redemption will be Casual Trick, with jockey Corey Nakatani flying in to ride for trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta. Another 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-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day after an impressive maiden victory at Churchill Downs in November.
However, Casual Trick disappointed when tiring to last of eight as the favorite in a talented allowance field on Jan. 29, a race won by 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 giving him another chance.
Casual Trick enters the race at an 8-1 morning line.
Neck 'n Neck (15-1) is an intriguing prospect for trainer Ian Wilkes as he comes back from a deceptively good try finishing fifth in the Grade III Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 4, beaten 2 3/4 lengths for it all with a very wide trip. Jockey Jose Lezcano rides Neck ‘n Neck, a son of Flower Alley owned by A. Steven Miles, Jr. Neck 'n Neck finished second to Discreet Dancer in that Jan. 7 allowance at Gulfstream.
Completing the field for the 68th Fountain of Youth are Fort Loudon (15-1, Jacks or Better Farm), fourth in the Holy Bull for trainer Stanley Gold and jockey Rajiv Maragh to ride; Csaba (20-1, Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff), a two-time winner at Calder and jockey Paco Lopez aboard for trainer Phil Gleaves; and News Pending (20-1, Klaravich Stable and William Lawrence) with Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Dale Romans.
--Edited Gulfstream Park release with additonal content by Dick Downey