It was all Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes.
The unbeaten colt and 2-5 favorite cruised to another easy victory, confirming his status as the nation’s top-ranked contender for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
Mohaymen knocked off two previously unbeaten colts in the $400,000 stakes, out-finishing Zulu by 2 1/4 lengths and returning to the Gulfstream Park winner’s circle as if the outing was nothing more strenuous than a morning gallop.
“You can see he’s not even blowing [breathing hard] when he comes back,” said his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “He’s a special colt.”
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Well, the road to Kentucky doesn’t get easier for the gray colt.
The unbeaten Nyquist, last year’s 2-year-old champion and the leading 3-year-old on the West Coast, is expected to come east for the Florida Derby — and a showdown with Mohaymen — on April 2.
Gulfstream Park managed to convince only five other opponents to face Mohaymen on Saturday in the Fountain of Youth. They might have a tougher time filling the field for the Florida Derby if both Mohaymen and Nyquist are entered.
This much is certain: Nyquist or no Nyquist, McLaughlin isn’t changing his game plan to get his colt to Kentucky.
“We’re here, and we’re not altering our plan,” McLaughlin said of his intention to keep Mohaymen in South Florida for his next engagement in the Florida Derby.
Although McLaughlin said he would prefer Nyquist take some other path to get to the Kentucky Derby, he’s not about to duck him.
“I hope they change their mind because we’re not looking forward to running against him,” McLaughlin said. “But this is home for us.”
To the contrary.
McLaughlin said a Mohaymen-Nyquist showdown one month out from the Kentucky Derby would be good for the sport.
“It’s great for racing,” McLaughlin said. “It’s neat that there’s two undefeated colts pointed that way against this year. It’s just too bad we [would] have to meet five weeks from now [in the Florida Derby] instead of 10 weeks from now [in the Kentucky Derby].”
But that’s a discussion for another day.
On Saturday, Mohaymen had it his own way in running his record to a perfect five wins in five races, two of them coming this winter at Gulfstream, where he won both the Holy Bull Stakes last month and Fountain of Youth on Saturday.
With jockey Junior Alvarado aboard, Mohaymen was forced to run a bit wide around the first turn in order to avoid trouble with 131-1 long shot Golden Ray, who was rank and trying to get out.
But after that, Alvarado settled the colt into striking range of early front-runner — and previously unbeaten — Awesome Banner, before engaging Zulu in the final turn for the run to the wire.
Jockey John Velazquez, aboard Zulu, went to his whip early in a bid to keep up and put in a determined run down the stretch.
But he was no match for Mohaymen, who pulled away for the win.
“I asked him a little more today,” Alvarado said, adding that he shook his reins some to keep the colt’s mind on running. “He [Zulu] tried to engage me a little bit. But I had the best horse today.”
After Zulu, it was four lengths further back to third-place finisher Fellowship, and another 6 3/4 lengths behind him to Awesome Speed in fourth. Awesome Banner was a distant fifth, 26 lengths behind the winner.
“He did it the right way,” McLaughlin said of Mohaymen. “He’s a very talented horse, and he keeps winning. It’s more nerve-racking with each race. But he’s obviously a very talented colt.”