Despite the presence of Union Rags, Algorithms has been installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite for Sunday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/16-mile contest, which carries a lucrative $400,000 purse, has drawn a total of eight runners.
"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," Gulfstream Park morning-line oddsmaker Chuck Streva explained. "Basically, that's the reason I leaned the way I did."
That previous start over the track Streva refers to came when Algorithms romped by five lengths in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on January 29. In second that day was Hansen, reigning champion two-year-old male and victor of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Algorithms will enter the Fountain of Youth undefeated from three starts and keeps jockey Javier Castellano in the saddle after the rider opted to stick with the bay son of Bernardini rather than pilot Union Rags. The Holy Bull victory helped propel Algorithms into the Triple Crown spotlight, but he was already an accomplished performer after breaking his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths at Belmont Park last June and then returning six months later to take an optional claimer at Gulfstream in mid-December.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has the screws tightened on his runner, sending Algorithms out for a half-mile breeze in :49 on Monday.
Though Algorithms is one of the horses to beat in the Fountain of Youth, Pletcher will also send out the impressive and unbeaten Discreet Dancer to make his stakes bow in the race. The chestnut sophomore has captured his initial two starts by a total of 15 1/4 lengths, and set a track record of 1:02.34 for 5 1/2 furlongs in his debut. Castellano was aboard for those starts, both of which came at Gulfstream, and will be replaced aboard the Discreet Cat colt by John Velazquez.
"I don't like running two horses against each other ever, especially two very talented colts that are undefeated. One of them is going to have a loss after this race, and you hate that," Pletcher said. "But at the same time, I think it's best for each horse's development -- that's mainly where our focus is, not so much just about this weekend, but hopefully moving forward, as well."
Jockey Julien Leparoux will take Castellano's job as the pilot of Union Rags for trainer Michael Matz on Sunday. The Dixie Union Kentucky homebred suffered his first loss last year as the even-money favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, just missing to Hansen after a game, but green, run.
Prior to that November 5 head loss, Union Rags easily dominated his rivals in New York when taking the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths and the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths. The bay colt, who opened his career with a 1 3/4-length score at Delaware Park last July, has been entered in a tough spot to make his three-year-old bow.
"He's as ready as he could possibly be other than running in a race," Matz said of Union Rags preparation. "From the time he spent taking it easy at Skara Glen Farm in Wellington (Florida) 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."
Bidding for redemption in the Fountain of Youth will be Casual Trick with jockey Corey Nakatani flying in to ride for trainer Nick Zito. A son of Bernardini, Casual Trick was added to many Kentucky Derby lists after finishing a game half-length second in the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day. The bay ridgling was already a winner at Churchill Downs, breaking his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths while going a mile in November.
However, Casual Trick disappointed his fans and connections when tiring to last of eight as the favorite in a talented allowance field on January 29, a race won by the Pletcher-trainer El Padrino. The track was sealed and rated good that day, and Zito has said he believes his colt just didn't handle the surface and is dismissing the performance. Casual Trick will have another chance to prove himself at this level Sunday.
Neck 'n Neck is an intriguing prospect for trainer Ian Wilkes as he comes back from a deceptively good try finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 4, beaten just three lengths for it all with a very wide trip. The son of Flower Alley finished second to Discreet Dancer prior to that in a January 7 allowance and broke his maiden under the Twin Spires in late November while going 1 1/16 miles. Jockey Jose Lezcano has the call on Neck 'n Neck.
Completing the field for the 68th edition of the Fountain of Youth are Fort Loudon, a bay Awesome of Course colt who ran fourth in the Holy Bull for trainer Stanley Gold and jockey Rajiv Maragh; the Paco Lopez-ridden Csaba, a Kitten's Joy bay who easily won a pair of off-the-turf races in the slop at Calder before finishing fifth in the grassy Dania Beach Stakes for trainer Phil Gleaves; and News Pending, a maiden-winning son of Harlan's Holiday who will have Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Dale Romans.