If there’s one horse on the road to the roses that looks to be a star worthy of rivaling Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve is he. A winner of three in four starts, including the Grade II Remsen and Nashua Stakes, the son of Bernardini will be making his 2011 debut in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes this Saturday at Gulfstream Park. THAS has two-stepped around the imposing Mo on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and in avoiding him, has painted an impressive self-portrait with his 3-race win-streak. He has already twice defeated the winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes, Mucho Macho Man, and finished ahead of Robert B. Lewis winner Anthony’s Cross in his maiden race. Should he cinch this greatest test, he will prove his form has survived the layoff, and will retain his status as Uncle Mo’s greatest adversary come May.
Standing in the way of THAS (or “Taz,” as I will now refer to him from here on) is a bevy of talented 3-year-olds, including Soldat, Gourmet Dinner, and Shackleford. Though Soldat’s best stakes performances have come on the turf, winning the Grade III With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, and finishing 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, his latest start caused his connections to catapult him in the direction of the Derby trail. After his allowance race was taken off the turf at Gulfstream, Soldat absolutely annihilated a field of good rivals in the slop, sailing away to a 10 ¾-length victory. Soldat’s race record isn’t as impressive as Taz’s, but this latest performance hints that he could be peaking with maturity.
Gourmet Dinner is already a veteran on the Road to the Roses. The winner of the Grade III Delta Jackpot Stakes already has enough graded earnings to make it into the gate of the Kentucky Derby, but he has kept on truckin’ ever since that performance; while he flopped on the Hollywood Cushion Track in the CashCall Futurity, finishing off the board for the first time in his career, he was able to run third in his next start, the Holy Bull Stakes, behind the brilliant Dialed In. An honest little horse with four wins in seven starts, Gourmet Dinner stands every chance of threatening the top three in the Fountain of Youth, though he will have to run the race of his life to one-up To Honor and Serve.
Shackleford is an interesting first-time stakes starter. A winner of two of three starts, with his only poor effort coming on the Polytrack at Keeneland in his maiden, he has already beaten two of the other runners in here, Casper’s Touch and El Grayling. This 2 ¼-length victory came in their most recent start, an allowance going 1 1/8-miles here on February 5th. The favorite for that race, Casper’s Touch, endured an eventful trip to finish third in that race; he was a handful going into the first turn, and when he started to make his run turning for home, the son of Touch Gold was slammed sideways by the eventual fourth-place horse. Though, in a cleaner trip, he probably wouldn’t have caught Shackleton, Casper’s Touch most certainly would’ve passed El Grayling for second.
The Fountain of Youth Stakes has seen some of the most exciting horses in recent memory, including Quality Road, Eskendereya, and First Samurai. Though this race hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Thunder Gulch in 1995, it has become a institution of quality, and looks to uphold that tradition this year.
Gulfstream’s Saturday card is chock-full of Derby and Oaks hopefuls, with the Grade III Hutcheson at 7 furlongs, and the Grade II Davona Dale for fillies running prior to the headlining race. The Hutcheson will basically be a race full of new faces versus Little Drama, the much-hyped half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Sprint champ Big Drama. The Davona Dale will feature a grudge-match against filly stars Dancinginherdreams, Pomeroys Pistol, and R Heat Lightning.
The Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes will post from Gulfstream Park at approximately 5:26pm ET and air live on HRTV. Check the Stakes Schedule on NTRA.com for other post times.