Ponce de Leon searched far and wide for the mythical source of eternal youth and the Spanish explorer’s quest has been memorialized with a horse race. And Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park holds a high level of appeal due to the presence of unbeaten Mohaymen, the leading Kentucky Derby (G1) contender based on the East Coast.
A solid cast of five horses has been assembled to challenge Mohaymen at the 1 1/16-mile distance, but anything less than a victory would be devastating to the reputation of the heavy favorite. The last three Kentucky Derby winners were all favorites after going unbeaten in 3-year-old prep races – American Pharoah, California Chrome and Orb – and Mohaymen has established himself as the horse to beat at this early stage, opening 2016 with a masterful performance in the January 30 Holy Bull Stakes (G2).
Plenty of excitement surrounded the 1994 running of the Fountain of Youth, which featured 2-year-old champion Dehere, unbeaten Holy Bull and runaway Remsen (G2) winner Go For Gin.
And a couple of other contestants, Ride the Rails and Halo’s Image, have ties to 2016 Kentucky Derby hopefuls: Ride the Rails is the sire of Candy Ride, who is represented by recent Risen Star (G2) winner Gun Runner; and Halo’s Image produced Southern Image, the sire of unbeaten California-bred star Smokey Image, who will test open rivals in the March 12 San Felipe (G2).
Holy Bull, sire of recent Withers (G3) winner Sunny Ridge, brought a 5-for-5 mark into the Fountain of Youth and was bet down to 6-5 favoritism. The future Hall of Famer showed his customary speed from the gate, contesting the pace with Halo’s Image, but the gray colt suddenly began to retreat after entering the far turn. He wound up last among six runners, 24 ¼ lengths back on the finish line, and some observers thought distance limitations were to blame because Holy Bull had been such a brilliant performer in previous one-turn starts.
However, the culprit turned out to be a flipped palate – Holy Bull stopped as a result of his inability to breathe. He came back to post a dazzling 5 ¾-length victory in the Florida Derby (G1), registering a 112 BRIS Speed rating in the 1 1/8-mile race, and continued to show his versatility when capturing the 1 ¼-mile Travers (G1) over an outstanding field that summer.
Halo’s Image was spent after racing on the front end with Holy Bull, bolting to the grandstand fence after entering the stretch, and the Fountain of Youth was wide open as the field turned for home.
Dehere rallied three wide off the far turn to take a short lead in upper stretch and determinedly withstood the rally of Go for Gin to his inside in deep stretch, winning by a little less than a length.
The 2-year-old champ registered his first victory since capturing the Champagne (G1) in October, snapping a two-race losing skein, but Dehere was unfortunately injured training for the Florida Derby and wound up being retired, the Fountain of Youth serving as the last salvo in a nine-race career that featured five graded stakes victories.
After finishing a clear second as the 8-5 second favorite in the Fountain of Youth, Go for Gin was bet down to 2-1 favoritism in the Florida Derby but never fired, checking in a well-beaten fourth. He proceeded to finish second as the odds-on choice in the Wood Memorial (G1) before rebounding at the right time, posting a 9-1 front-running upset in the Kentucky Derby with Chris McCarron.
Jerry Bailey rode Go for Gin for five straight starts through the Wood Memorial but wound up choosing third-placer Blumin Affair over the Nick Zito-trained colt in the Kentucky Derby. Bailey still won two versions of the Run for the Roses, with Sea Hero (1993) and Grindstone (1996).
Here is the 1994 Fountain of Youth: