Irish War Cry, one of the early favorites for this year’s $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), headlines Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream Park – one of two Championship Series races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by TwinSpires.com. The other is the $300,000 Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct.
The Gotham is scheduled as Aqueduct’s eighth race at 4:50 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Fountain of Youth is the 13th and final race on Gulfstream Park’s card which is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.
Both 1 1/16-mile races will award 50 points to the winner and 20 to the runner-up. The third and fourth-place finishers will earn 10 and 5 points, respectively. The top points earners in the 37-race Road to the Kentucky Derby series will have preference to compete in the 20-horse “Run for the Roses” on Saturday, May 6.
Irish War Cry, trained by Graham Motion who won the 2011 Derby with Animal Kingdom, became one of the Derby’s early favorites after his front-running, 3 ¾-length win in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull (GIII).
Delta Jackpot (GIII) winner and Holy Bull runner-up Gunnevara and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) third place finisher Practical Joke, who makes his 3-year-old debut, appear to be Irish War Cry’s main threats in the race, which attracted 11 entrants.
Maryland-based El Areeb returns to New York to face nine rivals in the Gotham after scoring a dominant 4 ¼-length victory in the Feb. 4 Withers Stakes (GIII).
On the Road to the Kentucky Oaks – the Derby’s companion race for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, May 5 – ultra-impressive Unique Bella is the odds-on favorite for Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile, $100,000 Santa Ysabel (GIII) at Santa Anita (Race 6, 6 p.m.) against six challengers.
Meanwhile, Demoiselle (GII) winner Miss Sky Warrior will make her 3-year-old debut against a full field, including Spinaway (GI) winner and Forward Gal (GII) runner-up Pretty City Dancer, in the $200,000 Davona Dale over 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream (Race 10 4:34 p.m.).
1. Two-year-old champion Classic Empire, who has accrued 32 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, had another setback Friday morning. In what was to be his first workout since popping an abscess in his right front hoof after the Feb. 4 Holy Bull, Classic Empire refused to breeze, was taken off the track by jockey Julien Leparoux and displayed signs of back discomfort at the barn, as first reported by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman. Trainer Mark Casse was hoping to use the April 8 Blue Grass (GII) as Classic Empire’s steppingstone to the Derby.
2. Sam F. Davis (GIII) winner and Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3 favorite McCraken will miss the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby because of a minor ankle injury. Instead, trainer Ian Wilkes will point the unbeaten son of Ghostzapper to the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
3. Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry is attempting to become the first New Jersey-bred to compete in the Kentucky Derby since Dance Floor finished third in 1992. Two horses bred in the Garden State have won the Derby: Cavalcade (1934) and the filly Regret (1915).
4. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Fountain of Youth three times – a record shared with D. Wayne Lukas. Made You Look, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf, will attempt to give the 49-year-old No. 4 in his dirt debut. Pletcher’s previous Holy Bull winners: Scat Daddy (2007), Eskendereya (2010) and Itsaknockout (2015).
5. The Bob Baffert-trained Los Alamitos Futurity (GI) winner Mastery continued his preparation for his first start as a 3-year-old in next weekend’s San Felipe (GII) by working six furlongs in 1:15 Tuesday at Santa Anita.
6. Gotham participants are 0-for-40 in the Kentucky Derby since 1980 and only two horses have hit the Derby board during that span: runner-ups Easy Goer (1989) and Aptitude (2000). Legendary Secretariat, the 1973 winner, is the lone horse to exit the Gotham and win the “Run for the Roses.”
7. En Hanse, winner of WEBN Stakes in early February, looks to continue his march toward the March 25 Spiral Stakes (GII) as the 5-2 morning line favorite in Saturday’s John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park. En Hanse is one of five Mike Maker trainees entered in the 8:40 p.m. race.
8. The Al Bastakiya kicks off the Super Saturday card at Meydan Racecourse, a 1 3/16-mile prep for the March 25 UAE Derby in Dubai. Fawree and Capezzano are the favorites in the 7 a.m. race.
9. The third of four Kentucky Derby Future Wagers closed Sunday with “All Others” as the 5-1 favorite followed by McCraken (6-1), Irish War Cry (7-1), Mastery (8-1), Classic Empire (11-1) and One Liner (12-1).
10. The lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager closed Sunday with Unique Bella as the even-money choice with “All Other 3-Year-Old Fillies” as the 9-1 second choice and Farrell at 10-1.
DOWN THE STRETCH
Last weekend’s Risen Star winner Girvin, who sits atop the Derby leaderboard with 50 points, will target the April 1 Louisiana Derby, according to trainer Joe Sharp. … Risen Star runner-up Untrapped is scheduled to make his next start in the March 18 Rebel, according to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Beasley, originally slated as the 6-1 fourth choice for this Saturday’s Fountain of Youth, is expected to scratch and enter in the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby instead. … Always Dreaming, an 11 ¾-length maiden winner and half-brother to Hot Dixie Chick, is the even-money morning line favorite in a 1 1/8-mile first-level allowance race Saturday at Gulfstream Park (Race 1, 12 p.m.). …Excitations, impressive maiden winner in early February and narrow runner-up to Girvin in his debut, is the 4-5 morning line favorite in a one mile and 70-yard, first-level allowance race on Sunday at Fair Grounds. … Eastport, who finished third behind winner Lookin for Eight in his Jan. 28 debut, is the 3-1 morning line favorite in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park on Saturday (Race 3, 1 p.m.). … Five of six early Triple Crown nominees make their debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight Saturday at Gulfstream Park (Race 8, 3:32 p.m.), including Shadwell Stable’s Fayeq, a half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Oaks winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. The son of Malibu Moon is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. …Churchill Downs veteran morning line odds maker Mike Battaglia, who retired last year after 43 years as announcer at Turfway Park, will return to the Henderson, Ky. track’s microphone Saturday night for the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, which is named after his late father and former Turfway general manager who launched the Spiral Stakes in 1972. … Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf fourth Ticonderoga is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Palm Beach (GIII) at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Gulfstream Park (Race 9, 4:03 p.m.). He is one of three Triple Crown nominees in the race. The others are Giant Payday and Adonis Creed. … The Chris Hartman-trained Balandeen, runner-up in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs and fifth in the Delta Downs Jackpot (GIII), is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s six-furlong, $125,000 Gazebo at Oaklawn Park (Race 7, 5:09 p.m.). … Last Saturday’s 3 ½-length Rachel Alexandra winner Farrell, may bypass the April 1 Fair Grounds Oaks and train up to the Kentucky Oaks, according to trainer Wayne Catalano. … Yorkiepoo Princess, the winner of Saturday’s Busher at Aqueduct, will make her next start in the April 8 Gazelle. Although she is not currently Kentucky Oaks nominated, trainer Ed Barker says she could be made eligible with a good showing in the 1 1/8-mile race. … The final Kentucky Derby Future Wager (Pool 4) is scheduled for March 31-April 2. The 23 individual betting interests will be announced Tuesday, March 28.
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