The Kentucky Derby picture is officially a muddled mess.
When heavy favorite and Derby darling Good Magic not only lost on Saturday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes — a major prep heading toward the May 5 Run for the Roses — but lost to an 18-1 betting afterthought named Promises Fulfilled, it more than clouded matters.
“It’s muddy water right now,” said winning trainer Dale Romans after watching Promises Fulfilled jump on top at the start and carry his lead all the way to the wire in the key Derby prep for 3-year-olds.
Promises Fulfilled won by 2 1/4 lengths over Strike Power, with Good Magic another 2 1/4 lengths back in third.
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“I just told the jock, ‘Push the pedal and try to open up two [lengths] and see where they go from there,’ ” Romans said.
Irad Ortiz Jr. did exactly that and, barring any setbacks between now and then, the result was one that punched the colt’s ticket for Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
“It means we have a shot to run on the first week in May, and how good is that?” said winning owner Robert Baron, who never before had a 3-year-old that was Derby material. “I never won the Fountain of Youth, I can tell you that much.
“And this is on the Derby trail, so that’s even more exciting.”
Saturday’s outcome at Gulfstream Park created more questions than it answered. For instance, what happened to Good Magic, the reigning 2-year-old champion and top-ranked Kentucky Derby contender going into the day?
Sent away as the 3-5 favorite, Good Magic and jockey Jose Ortiz (Irad’s brother) settled into a perfect stalking position, sitting fourth within two lengths of the front-running Promises Fulfilled.
But Promises Fulfilled was never pressured, coasted along in comfortable opening fractions and had plenty of kick left at the end to race home first.
Romans took a glance at the running fractions on the tote board and liked what he saw.
“They let him go in 48 [seconds for the first half mile] with his ears up, and I knew it would take a heckuva horse to pass him at that point,” Romans said.
Good Magic never fired while Strike Power held his runner-up position.
“The latter part of the race, he didn’t have it,” said Good Magic’s trainer, Chad Brown.
Being that it was Good Magic’s first race since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, the long layoff provided a legitimate excuse for what was an otherwise lackluster performance.
“He’s coming off the layoff, and I’m sure he will move forward with this race under his belt,” said his jockey, Jose Ortiz.
The winning time of 1:44.17 was anything but spectacular.
While the racing surface at Gulfstream on Saturday was playing slower than usual, the final time was considerably slower — more than 2 1/2 seconds slower — than Audible’s time in winning the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 3 at the same 1 1/16-mile distance.
“He was faster than nine others,” said Romans, dismissing the unimpressive time. “That’s all I cared about.”
So the Fountain of Youth didn’t really settle much.
The Florida Derby on March 31 could help clear the picture.
Romans said he will bring back Promises Fulfilled for Gulfstream’s signature race. Audible will likely run in it, as well.
“Right now, there’s nobody running away from the [Derby] crop, and that makes it exciting,” Romans said. “To me, that’s why the Derby’s so great. They all come together on one day.”
Romans is no stranger to the Kentucky Derby. He’s sent out eight runners in the nation’s most famous race.
“We’ve been there eight times,” Romans said. “It’s time to get there and win it.”