Only six horses are taking part in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday — the smallest field for the historic race in 18 years. But what the race for rising 3-year-olds lacks in size, it more than makes up for in sizzle.
Mohaymen — the nation’s top-ranked contender for the Kentucky Derby — heads a select field that also includes two other unbeaten colts, along with another that has lost just once.
Something has to give in a 1 1/16-mile showdown that will help set the stage for the Florida Derby on April 2 and “Run for the Roses” in Kentucky on May 7.
“It’s a tough race, but I wouldn’t trade places with anybody,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who has saddled Mohaymen — a royally bred gray colt with a signature stretch kick — to four wins in as many races.
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Mohaymen sold to Shadwell Stables for a sales-topping $2.2 million as a yearling, and he has lived up to the price tag, already winning three Grade 2 stakes, including last month’s Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream by 3 1/2 lengths.
The Daily Racing Form has him listed as the No. 1 contender in the country for the Kentucky Derby. Track oddsmakers have him listed as the 6-5 favorite for the marquee event on Saturday’s 13-race program at Gulfstream.
But he’s anything but a lock.
Two other unbeaten colts — Zulu and American Banner — are taking part, and they rank 10th and 11th, respectively, in the DRF’s Derby rankings. Throw in American Speed (3 for 4 in his career and ranked No. 16) and the Fountain is gushing with major Triple Crown implications.
“It’s going to be his toughest race to date,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen. “Zulu is undefeated. Awesome Banner is undefeated. Awesome Speed is a nice horse. It’s going to be tough, and we just hope we keep going and stay the same.”
Where Mohaymen could hold the advantage is that he’s the only one of the leading group that has won going two turns — and he has done it twice: the Remsen Stakes last year and the Holy Bull on Jan. 30.
“If we can get [Mohaymen] not to run, and maybe Awesome Banner not to run, and maybe a few of those others, we’ll have a good shot,” joked Alan Goldberg, Awesome Speed’s trainer.
Said trainer Todd Pletcher, who is sending out the lightly raced Zulu: “We could have opted for an easier spot, but we felt like it was in his best interests to stay on a track that he’s 2 for 2 on and find out where he fits with the big boys.”
And then there’s Awesome Banner, who is undefeated in three starts — all sprints in dominant fashion. His trainer, Stanley Gold, believes the colt is capable of carrying his speed in a longer route.
“He hasn’t been asked and he’s got something left,” Gold said. “I don’t see any reason he can’t go further.”
The question is whether any of them can knock off Mohaymen.
“It has worked out perfectly so far,” McLaughlin said.
Fellowship and Golden Ray are expected to round out the field.
Post time for Saturday’s first race is noon. The Fountain of Youth is the 12th race, with a post time of 5:30 p.m.