02/22/2010 1:00AM

Buddy's Saint never had a chance


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Bruce Levine spent the better part of the last three months meticulously planning and then carrying out a training schedule designed to have his Kentucky Derby prospect Buddy's Saint fit and ready for a big effort right off the bench in last Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. It took only 25 seconds for all those nerve-wracking preparations to have gone for naught.

Buddy's Saint was all but eliminated from contention when sent up into tight quarters along the rail by jockey Jose Lezcano a quarter-mile into the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth. Buddy's Saint bounced around with Aikenite and was forced to take up sharply in the vicinity of the seven-eighths pole, recovered briefly to make a mild run outside horses down the backstretch, but was done by the time the field left the backstretch. He finished ninth, more than 22 lengths behind the runaway winner, Eskendereya.

"He didn't break sharp, the rider tried to gun him for position going into the turn, and it didn't work out," a somber Levine said while recounting the opening quarter-mile of the Fountain of Youth at his barn on Sunday. "It's hard to make up ground on this track so once he checked and fell back like that it was an impossible situation. It was just one of them days. We'll throw this race out and move on from here."

If anything positive came out of the Fountain of Youth for Levine, it was the fact Buddy's Saint appeared to have escaped all the roughhousing on the first turn unscathed.

"At the moment he seems to be fine, but I'll wait until the middle of the week to make sure everything is all right before sending him back to the track," said Levine. "What happened on Saturday doesn't shake my confidence in him in the least, but the fact he didn't get enough out of the race is a piece of the puzzle we'll have to deal with as we move forward."

Levine said he's uncertain what would be next on the agenda for Buddy's Saint, who went off as the 9-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth despite having been idle since winning the Grade 2 Remsen on Nov. 28. He named the Florida Derby here on March 20 or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct April 3 as the most logical options.

"I won't bring him to Churchill Downs just for the sake of running in the Derby if it's not the right thing to do," he said.