02/27/2011 2:31PM

Soldat's Fountain of Youth


On Jan. 23, I posted some thoughts in this space on how I was skeptical of Soldat's big double-digit allowance win in relatively fast final time two days earlier at Gulfstream Park because that score came over the sort of sloppy track that often artificially skews good or poor performances.

Well, it was made plainly obvious Saturday that my skepticism was misguided. By virtue of his victory in the Fountain of Youth on a fast track at Gulfstream, Soldat proved that he does not require a wet surface to be successful on dirt. So does that mean I have now become a card carrying member of the Soldat Fan Club? While I am not quite as skeptical of Soldat as I once was, the answer is, no. Not yet, anyway.

I have a few reservations about Soldat's Fountain of Youth. First concerns the pace. Outside of some token pressure through interior fractions from an 80-1 shot who didn't even manage to finish, Soldat controlled a comfortable pace, which is always a huge advantage.

Another thing that doesn't sit right with me is how Soldat had to work as hard as he did after controlling that moderate pace to keep Gourmet Dinner at bay through a final furlong run in an uninspiring 13.04 seconds. Gourmet Dinner is a nice, hard hitting colt, and I'd love to own him. But Gourmet Dinner has never been confused with being a leader of his division. He's limited. So if Soldat had to dig deep to turn Gourmet Dinner back by two, hard-fought lengths, then how well could Soldat have possibly run?

Finally, there is the not-so-insignificant matter of To Honor and Serve being a virtual no show in the Fountain of Youth in his first start since his impressive victory in the Remsen last November. That To Honor and Serve would not be fully cranked Saturday could have been expected given his conservative connections, and the fact that his real goal is the Kentucky Derby. But after making only a mild run at the lead after racing wide around both turns, it was stunning to see To Honor and Serve searching for the oxygen turning for home.

To Honor and Serve, who finished a very large looking 4 3-4 lengths behind Gourmet Dinner in third, threw in a dud that might be best forgiven, and I wouldn't write him off just yet. But with To Honor and Serve not showing up, that greatly reduced the Fountain of Youth's degree of difficulty, and made Soldat's task all the easier.