Whether you thought Upstart was the best horse or Itsaknockout lost all chance due to interference, the Fountain of Youth gave Thoroughbred racing fans something to debate.
It was an oddly-run race, with the top finishers staggering home over a tiring track that produced a slow final time (1:46.29).
The elevated winner, Itsaknockout, received only a 91 BRIS Speed rating – easily the lowest figure in the last 15 runnings at the 1 1/16-mile distance – but the lightly-raced colt remains eligible to show more in upcoming starts for Todd Pletcher.
Runner-up Upstart did a little better, registering a 95 BRIS Speed rating after crossing the wire 2 ¾ lengths in front. The Richard Violette charge was already proven from a Speed-rating perspective, posting a 105 for an easy tally in the January 24 Holy Bull.
Itsaknockout, who is now unbeaten from three starts after making his career bow on December 7, is bred to relish longer distances and could continue to blossom this spring. He joins the top 10 list at #9.
Frosted appeared to be traveling easily with the lead rounding the far turn of the Fountain of Youth but his tank suddenly hit empty entering the stretch drive, resulting in a back-pedaling fourth. He drops out of my top 10 along with stablemate Imperia, who faltered at short odds in the Risen Star with a well-beaten fifth.
Both colts are trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, whose main Kentucky Derby hopes now rest with Ocean Knight (#6).
I went back-and-forth between unbeaten allowance winner Khozan and Risen Star hero International Star for the final slot and wound up settling on the latter due to his experience.
Khozan has been a brilliant performer so far in a pair of one-turn races, and the speedy colt possesses a pedigree that is well-suited on paper toward longer distances, but he defeated little last time and we must wait until the March 28 Florida Derby to watch him try a route of ground. The $1 million purchase is already worth a fortune and his connections are doing an excellent job of protecting his value.
A son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, International Star figures to receive plenty of stamina as well from the female side of his pedigree and is a prime candidate for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby distance if good enough. I like his improving form and rising BRIS Speed numbers, and am looking forward to seeing him perform against deeper competition in the March 28 Louisiana Derby.
The Kentucky Derby is nine weeks from Saturday.
- Dortmund – Exited his game win in the February 7 Robert B. Lewis in excellent order and returned to the worktab last week; Bob Baffert initially planned to wait for the April 4 Santa Anita Derby but said recently he may run him back in the March 7 San Felipe.
- Carpe Diem – Impressed by his juvenile form, including an easy win over Grade 1 rivals and a runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and well-bred colt appears to have all the tools for a serious Kentucky Derby assault if he keeps moving forward at age three. Makes highly-anticipated return in March 7 Tampa Bay Derby.
- Upstart – Took an expected step back in the Fountain of Youth – trainer Richard Violette openly guaranteed as much – but his Holy Bull remains arguably the top stakes performance by any 3yo this season. Son of Flatter figures to be much tighter next time in April 4 Wood Memorial.
- American Pharoah – Juvenile champ dominated the competition before being sidelined by an injury last fall, displaying brilliant speed while earning big BRIS Speed numbers. He’s training forwardly for return, according to reports, and we’ll get to see him return in the March 7 Rebel Stakes.
- Firing Line – He’s run huge recording a pair of narrow seconds to Dortmund in Lewis and Los Al Futurity, and talented colt is expect to get out from under that rival’s shadow next time. March 28 Sunland Derby could be on his agenda.
- Ocean Knight – Broke maiden sprinting in mid-December debut and made a seamless transition to stakes company while trying two turns in January 31 Sam F. Davis, overcoming a wide trip to win comfortably in the end. Curlin colt appears to have a big upside; March 7 Gotham is next.
- Far From Over – Up-and-coming colt from the Pletcher stable displayed excellent moxie when upsetting Withers in second start, overcoming a stumbling start to win going away over a seasoned rival. Blame colt registered a 112 BRIS Late Pace rating last time and appears to be scratching the surface.
- The Great War – A commendable fourth after chasing a hot pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, War Front colt makes second route attempt in Saturday’s John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway and will bring dangerous speed to the equation if he qualifies in the March 28 Spiral Stakes.
- Itsaknockout – Gained valuable seasoning experiencing a troubled trip in the Fountain of Youth and expect the son of Lemon Drop Kid to keep moving forward. Would like to see him make his first start away from Gulfstream in final prep race, but Pletcher said the Florida Derby is likely.
- International Star – Still some quality concerns but easy to admire the way he’s come on in his last two outings for Mike Maker, finishing full of run in both the Lecomte and Risen Star wins. Could continue to show more in Louisiana Derby.
Photo credit: Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography