Violence, a perfect three-for-three so far, looks to enhance his Kentucky Derby credentials in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/16-mile test ushers in the next stage of the new scoring system for the Run for the Roses, the "Kentucky Derby Championship Series," offering a 50-point windfall to the winner.
Unraced since capturing the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on December 15, the Todd Pletcher trainee ranks as the most accomplished member of the 11-horse field. But his up-and-coming challengers are likewise on a mission, including Breeders' Cup Juvenile alumni He's Had Enough and Speak Logistics, Grade 3 Sam F. Davis upsetter Falling Sky, and recent allowance winners Orb, Cerro and Majestic Hussar.
Violence, who sold for $600,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, overcame a slow start to win at first asking at Saratoga last August. Stepping up into stakes company for the Grade 2 Nashua going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, he raced greenly down the stretch, and kept veering in, before drawing off by two lengths. Violence survived an inquiry into his waywardness that day, and appeared to have learned his lessons by the time he lined up at Hollywood Park. The well-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro showed a more professional demeanor in the CashCall Futurity, rallying smoothly to a 1 1/4-length decision in his two-turn debut.
Regular rider Javier Castellano will be back aboard Violence in the Fountain of Youth. The 9-5 morning-line favorite and 122-pound highweight is well drawn in post 3, ensuring a solid tactical position in the very short run into the first turn.
"He's very tractable and can keep close to the pace if he needs to," Pletcher said. "He's very versatile. We'll see how it plays out with Majestic Hussar (possibly on lead) and how fast he goes, but he (Violence) won't let anybody sneak away from him too far."
He's Had Enough, who is cross-entered to Saturday's Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds, has not fared as well by winding up in post 9. Based in Southern California with trainer Doug O'Neill, the Tapit colt has struggled since his near-upset of champion Shanghai Bobby in the November 3 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A well-beaten fifth behind Violence in the CashCall, He's Had Enough was no match for Flashback in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis on February 2 at Santa Anita. He paid the price after trying to press the winner early, and faded to a poor third. A return to more patient tactics could help the gray, who represents the same connections as last year's Derby and Preakness-winning champion I'll Have Another. Mario Gutierrez has the return call.
"We drew post nine in the Fountain of Youth and 12 of (an overflow) 15 in the Risen Star," O'Neill said. "(Owner) Mr. (Paul) Reddam is in a meeting at the moment and we'll discuss it, but I'd say we're leaning toward the Fountain of Youth."
Speak Logistics was one of Calder's most notable juveniles last season, wiring the October 13 In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths. The son of High Cotton next attempted the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, only to tire badly to seventh. In his reappearance in the February 2 Sam F. Davis at Tampa, Speak Logistics was advancing strongly along the inside before having to check sharply. He never recovered from that costly interference on the far turn and wound up fourth, and gets a key rider switch to Joel Rosario on Saturday. It's worth recalling that Speak Logistics once appeared to be Eddie Plesa Jr.'s best prospect, before stablemate Itsmyluckyday jumped up dramatically in the Gulfstream Park Derby and Grade 3 Holy Bull.
Falling Sky, the front-running winner of the Sam F. Davis, was the one who came over on Speak Logistics rounding the far turn. A claim of foul was lodged against him, but Falling Sky was allowed to keep the victory in his first start for new connections. The winner of a December 15 Gulfstream allowance over Fountain of Youth rival Majestic Hussar, the Lion Heart colt was subsequently sold for $425,000 at the OBS Winter Mixed Sale. New owners Newtown Anner Stud, James Covello and Joseph Bulger transferred Falling Sky to John Terranova II, and he got off to an auspicious beginning at Tampa. He had little luck with his Fountain of Youth post, however, finding himself in post 10.
"He's just doing great," Terranova said. "He's won over the track here. I think coming back in three weeks, if anything, could help him. He seems to thrive on work. We thought it would be a good spot to put him in since he came out of the Tampa race absolutely fantastic."
The speedy Majestic Hussar hopes to handle this first assignment at two turns. The Eddie Kenneally pupil romped in his Saratoga debut, but wasn't quite ready for prime time in the Grade 2 Hopeful and retreated to seventh behind Shanghai Bobby. Freshened for more than three months, Majestic Hussar returned to finish second to Falling Sky, and promptly followed up with a seven-furlong allowance score here on January 19. The runner-up was Pletcher's Palace Malice, who runs in the Risen Star. Both of Majestic Hussar's wins have come on sloppy tracks, so the well-named son of Majestic Warrior would like to see some rain.
Cerro, part-owned by Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, comes off a convincing 2 1/2-length allowance win here on January 26. The Team Valor International colorbearer controlled the pace on that occasion, and rebuffed a bid from Sky Captain, who will try again in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Graham Motion had initially intended to run Cerro in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on Gulfstream's turf on March 3, so this represents a change in plan. The beautifully-bred son of Mr. Greeley will also be cutting back in trip from 1 1/8 miles.
The Shug McGaughey-trained Orb is also shortening up a bit off his nine-furlong allowance victory, which occurred on the same day as Cerro's. Although his final time was slower (1:51 compared to 1:50 1/5 for Cerro), Orb had to rally from last off a much slower pace, and did so with something in reserve. He also deserves credit for overcoming trouble entering the first turn, where he was steadied. The Malibu Moon colt has taken a while to figure out the game, but he's on the upswing at present and brings a two-race winning streak into his stakes debut. Orb worked a sharp half-mile in :49 at Payson Park on Monday and picks up the services of Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez.
Shadwell Stable's homebred Elmutahid takes a big class hike for Kiaran McLaughlin. The son of Street Cry and Grade 1 turf winner Alwajeeha dominated an off-the-turf maiden going 1 1/8 miles in the Gulfstream slop, and now faces winners for the first time.
Rounding out the field are two last seen in the January 26 Holy Bull at this track and trip -- Joshua's Comprise, an unlikely fourth at odds of 132-1, and Sr. Quisqueyano, who turned in a rare clunker when eighth. Sr. Quisqueyano had finished in the top two in all of his prior starts, including in the Gulfstream Park Derby two back.