Saturday’s Fountain of Youth at Florida’s Gulfstream Park featured a pair of highly touted Kentucky Derby contenders in Soldat and To Honor and Serve. After the race, however, one horse’s stock was heading higher while the other’s had slipped somewhat.
The $400,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park outside of Miami was the ‘marquee matchup’ of Kentucky Derby prep races this weekend due to the entry of three legitimate contenders–To Honor and Serve, Gourmet Dinner and Soldat. To Honor and Serve had been the more heavily hyped horse heading into the race, though Soldat had become a favorite of ‘sharp’ handicappers. The wagering public followed their lead and got on the Soldat bandwagon as well–To Honor and Serve had opened as a 8-5 favorite on the morning line, but Soldat attracted heavy late money to close a 7-5 post time favorite. Soldat was installed as a 2-1 morning line favorite by the Gulfstream oddsmaker.
Soldat broke slowly from the inside post but quickly took over the race and cruised to a wire to wire victory by two lengths over Gourmet Dinner. Despite some early pressure from longshot El Grayling on the outside, Soldat was never really challenged as he set fractions of 24.34 seconds, 47.99 and 1:12.43 for the first six furlongs. To Honor and Serve pulled even at the 3/8th pole but quickly started to fade in the stretch. It was apparent that jockey Alan Garcia left plenty in reserve, further underscoring Soldat’s dominant performance. Gourmet Dinner got a good trip looking to close late, but was never able to run down Soldat.
Immediately after the race trainer Kiaran McLaughlin praised Soldat and said the next stop was the Florida Derby:
“We have a very nice horse, I’m happy the way he ran and we’re headed to the Florida Derby. We might not have gone to the lead if we hadn’t drawn the one hole but with the short run to the first turn that’s what we planned. If we draw in the middle of the pack in the Florida Derby, we might take back.”
“He’s a nice horse, he can do it all, and we knew he wanted a fast track.”
McLaughlin updated the media on his horse early Monday and reiterated his plans:
“Soldat is happy and in great shape. The Florida Derby, Sunday, April 3; that’s the race we’ll point for now. ”
Despite his second place finish, Gourmet Dinner is still in good shape for a Kentucky Derby bid–entering the weekend he was second only to Uncle Mo in the graded stakes winnings necessary for qualification. Handicappers have been impressed with Gourmet Dinner’s versatility and resiliency–he’s finished in the money in 7 of his 8 races run at 4 different tracks on both coasts. His trainer Steve Standridge was generally pleased with his effort:
“I’m very happy with the way he ran. He switched leads down the stretch when Ramon (Dominguez) hit him right handed, then he changed back after a few strides, but you lose a little momentum.”
He added that both the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby are under consideration for Gourmet Dinner’s next test, with the California race offering logistical advantages:
“He’s a warrior. We’re going to play it by ear as far as his next start. We’re looking at the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby, but we’re leaning a little toward Santa Anita. I know it will be easier in California than it is here, and it gives us another week.”
To Honor and Serve finished third, but had not raced since his victory in the Remsen at Aqueduct on November 27, 2010. Trainer Bill Mott said that he may have needed the race to work off some ‘ring rust’:
“He (jockey John Velazquez) liked his race. He said he did everything he asked until he got to the quarter pole and then he said he got a little flat. If he did get beat I thought he might carry John a little more into the stretch.”
Soldat paid $4.80 to win, $3.00 to place and $2.20 to show. Gourmet Dinner returned $3.80 and $2.60 with show prices on To Honor and Serve coming in at $2.20. The 1-2 exacta paid $13.80 with the 1-2-7 trifecta netting $18.80 for winning bettors.
2011 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park video: