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Zayat Stables' ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway) blew the doors off his competition in Saturday's $250,000 Fountain of Youth S. (G2), stamping himself as the leading Kentucky Derby (G1) prospect in South Florida and giving multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher yet another top classic prospect to go with recent Sam F. Davis S. (G3) hero Rule (Roman Ruler) and Saturday's Risen Star S. (G2) winner Discreetly Mine (Mineshaft). Under John Velazquez, Eskerendeya was perfectly placed behind speedster Lost Aptitude (Aptitude) heading into the first turn, took over from that tiring rival around the far turn and opened up through the stretch to score by 8 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:48 4/5 for nine furlongs on the fast track. Eskendereya, the near 4-1 third choice, returned $9.80, $4.20 and $3.
While Eskendereya enjoyed a fine trip early, 9-5 favorite Buddy's Saint (Saint Liam) took a beating around the opening bend as he was bounced around and forced to check after coming in contact with Aikenite (Yes It's True), and never fully recovered while finishing 22 1/4 lengths behind Eskendereya.
"The other horses came in like nothing (on the first turn)," jockey Jose Lezcano said. "I was already in a spot, and they came in and killed my horse; put him into the rail. He came back a little bit to run, but I was out of the race by then because of what happened."
Lost Aptitude cleared the field from his outside draw and set splits of :23 3/5 and :47 4/5. Though he set comfortable fractions, Lost Aptitude backed out quickly approaching the far turn and Eskendereya took over through six furlongs in 1:12 2/5. Jackson Bend, the 5-2 second choice, challenged from the outside while Aikenite, at 7-1, angled out in the lane after saving ground throughout. None of them could get close to the winner, however, who extended his dominance through the lane.
Jackson Bend held off Aikenite for second by three parts of a length, returning $3.60 and $2.10. Aikenite gave back $3.60 after finishing a length ahead of 50-1 outsider Pleasant Prince (Indy King). The exacta was worth $35.20, the trifecta $151, and the 8-5-1-4 superfecta paid $1,404.40. Next under the wire were Ice Box (Pulpit), Pulsion (Include), Positive Split (Repent), Prince Will I Am (Victory Gallop), Buddy's Saint and Lost Aptitude.
"You've got to be excited when they perform like that in these kind of races at this time of year," Pletcher said. "He's had two wins over the track here now, so the Florida Derby ([G1] on March 20) would seem logical for him, but we will consider all the options."
Runner-up in his debut over the turf at Saratoga on Labor Day, Eskendereya was entered for the turf again in the Pilgrim S. at Belmont Park on October 4. When that race was moved off the grass and on to dirt due to inclement weather, Eskendereya dominated his four rivals by 7 1/4 lengths. Only ninth over Pro-Ride in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) after encountering trouble heading into the clubhouse turn, Eskendereya rebounded to take a nine-furlong allowance at Gulfstream by 1 1/4 lengths on January 7. With this tally, the chestnut improved his mark to 5-3-1-0, $275,700.
Bred in Kentucky by Sanford Robertson, Eskendereya was a $250,000 Keeneland September purchase. Out of Aldebaran Light (Seattle Slew), a half-sister to Grade 2 hero Blazonry (Hennessy), Eskendereya counts as a half-brother Balmont (Stravinsky), who captured the Middle Park S. (Eng-G1) and Gimcrack S. (Eng-G2) in 2003. He also has a juvenile half-sister named Wear Red (Henny Hughes) and yearling half-sister by First Samurai. Eskendereya's fourth dam was Queen Sucree (*Ribot), the dam of 1974 Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade (Bold Bidder) and the ancestress of Grade 1-winning full siblings Stephan's Odyssey (Danzig) and Lotka (Danzig). Queen Sucree herself was a half-sister to the multiple champion Tosmah (Tim Tam) and the Grade 1-winning Halo (Hail to Reason), the sire of Kentucky Derby winners Sunny's Halo and Sunday Silence. All were out of Broodmare of the Year Cosmah (Cosmic Bomb).