A field of 10 three-year-olds will line up for Saturday's $250,000 Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the top local prep for the March 20 Florida Derby (G1), but only half have generated enough enthusiasm so far to be considered candidates for the win in the nine-furlong fixture. The two likely to attract the most wagering support are BUDDY'S SAINT (Saint Liam) and JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil), among the leading juveniles of 2009 who competed exclusively on dirt.
The Bruce Levine-trained Buddy's Saint, one of only two in the field with a win at the Fountain of Youth distance, was demoted from first in his maiden debut at Belmont Park in September, but emphatically rebounded to win the Nashua S. (G3) at Aqueduct by 12 lengths. His subsequent 4 3/4-length win in the nine-furlong Remsen S. (G2) over the same track was less stellar from a BRIS Speed rating perspective (which declined from 105 to 91), but the form has held up in some respects with runner-up Peppi Knows (Stephen Got Even) taking the Whirlaway S. at Aqueduct earlier this month.
Jackson Bend, who swept the Florida Stallion S. series in addition to the open Frank Gomez Memorial at Calder last season, endured a wide trip en route to a second-place effort behind the now-sidelined Winslow Homer (Unbridled's Song) in the Holy Bull S. (G3) at Gulfstream last month. That was a one-turn mile, however, and the Nick Zito pupil will not necessarily have to deal with similar circumstances when stretching back out Saturday.
ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), treated early in his career as a grass horse by Todd Pletcher, has won twice in as many starts on dirt, warranting his inclusion in the Fountain of Youth. Second in his turf debut, the chestnut romped in the off-the-turf Pilgrim S. at Belmont by more than seven lengths. He never recovered when taken up entering the clubhouse turn in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) over Pro-Ride, but kicked off his sophomore campaign with a smart allowance win over a mile on Gulfstream's main track.
PULSION (Include), who raced exclusively in California last year, makes his dirt debut for Patrick Biancone. Second to juvenile champion Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) in the Norfolk S. (G1), the Florida-bred was another who lost all chance when forced to steady entering the first turn in the Breeders' Cup. He's worked sharply all winter over the track and will undoubtedly appreciate the step up in distance. Expected to provide some of the pace in the Fountain of Youth is LOST APTITUDE (Aptitude), who has raced exclusively on turf until now. A dominant winner of the Grand Canyon H. over the Churchill sod two back, the Dale Romans charge led until the final yards in the Tropical Park Derby (G3) on New Year's Day over a boggy infield at Calder.
AIKENITE (Yes It's True), who placed twice at the Grade 1 level at two and was a close fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was off poorly in the Holy Bull and backed out after pressing the early pace. He appears a cut below on paper but could grab a share with a better effort. The remainder of the field, led by recent course-and-distance allowance winner ICE BOX (Pulpit), are all making their stakes debut in the deepest Triple Crown prep race of the season thus far.
The $150,000 Hutcheson S. (G2), a seven-furlong prep for the Fountain of Youth within living memory, has been relegated to supporting feature on the same card in recent years. This year's edition marks the seasonal debut of D' FUNNYBONE (D'wildcat), the electrifying winner of the Futurity S. (G2) and Saratoga Special S. (G2) who failed to handle the Pro-Ride when trailing home last of 13 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While his stock as a Kentucky Derby (G1) contender is currently trading at a low level, a more representative effort from the Rick Dutrow pupil could be enough to garner top honors in the Hutcheson.
A LITTLE WARM (Stormin Fever) and WILDCAT FRANKIE (Wildcat Heir), the one-two finishers in the January 9 Spectacular Bid S. in the slop, are the main threats. While A Little Warm has not seen action since that 1 1/2-length score over six furlongs, Wildcat Frankie enters off only a two-week rest after stretching out to a mile to take a first-level allowance at even-money.
Dutrow also sends out RADIOHEAD (GB) (Johannesburg) for his dirt debut. Seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the chestnut captured the Norfolk S. (Eng-G2) at Royal Ascot and later placed in such tradition-rich races as the Nunthorpe S. (Eng-G1) and Middle Park S. (Eng-G1).