02/27/2009 12:00AM

Distance yields deep Fountain of Youth

Bob Coglianese
Capt. Candyman Can, winner of the Hutcheson Stakes, should have plenty of speed to track in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - In its 63-year history, Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth has been carded at six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile and 70 yards, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles. Yet never during all that time was the Fountain of Youth decided at a mile, as it will be Saturday with a stellar field of 11 3-year-olds all trying to improve their positions along the Kentucky Derby trail.

The Fountain of Youth is one of four Kentucky Derby preps at a mile or over to be run Saturday. The Grade 3 Sham will be run at Santa Anita, the $100,000 Battaglia Memorial at Turfway, and the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.

First-year racing secretary Doug Bredar made the decision to shorten the Fountain of Youth to a mile from 1 1/8 miles, the distance in all four renewals since the renovation of Gulfstream Park was completed in 2005. It has turned out to be a stroke of genius, considering the 2009 edition has lured the deepest field of Kentucky Derby prospects to compete anywhere this winter.

The starting lineup for Saturday's Fountain of Youth, which serves as a prep for the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 28, is led by four members of Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch: Capt. Candyman Can, Beethoven, This Ones for Phil, and Notonthesamepage. The field also includes Grade 3 winner Break Water Edison, the undefeated Taqarub, the once-beaten pair of Quality Road and Theregoesjojo, turf stakes winner Jack Spratt, and Bee Cee Cee and Rocketing Returns. Take the Points was entered but will scratch to run at Santa Anita later the same afternoon in the Sham.

"I looked at the race last year and even though it had a full and very good field, only one horse came out of the race to run in the Florida Derby," Bredar explained of his decision to shorten the race. "In addition, at a mile it gives these 3-year-olds a nice progression starting with the Hutcheson leading up to the Florida Derby," which is run at 1 1/8 miles.

The connections of the majority of the 11 starters in this year's Fountain of Youth confirmed that they would not have chosen this race had it been kept at 1 1/8 miles in 2009. That includes trainer Ian Wilkes, whose Capt. Candyman Can won the Hutcheson in his 3-year-old debut.

"This race suits me perfectly," Wilkes said. "Had it been a mile and one-eighth instead of a mile, we'd have looked elsewhere."

Capt. Candyman Can showed the ability to relax off the early leaders en route to a 1 1/2-length decision over Hello Broadway in the seven-furlong Hutcheson, and with all the speed in the lineup, Wilkes is hoping jockey Julien Leparoux uses a similar strategy in the Fountain of Youth.

"The main thing is not where he's at during the race, but that he's relaxed and where Julien wants him to be," Wilkes said. "I don't think he'll be too far back, nor would I want him to be since this track is not conducive to winning from too far back right now. There are some very good horses in this field, and he's going to have to step up a little bit and run well to show us he belongs with this kind."

A fast pace is almost a certainty with Notonthesamepage, Quality Road, and Taqarub all at their best on the lead.

Notonthesamepage led throughout to post an 8 1/4-length triumph in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid here opening day, a performance that earned him what at the time was a division-best 114 Beyer Speed Figure. Trainer Wesley Ward immediately circled the Fountain of Youth on his calendar, giving his horse eight weeks to recuperate from the effort. Notonthesamepage will break from post 3.

"We wouldn't have been in here if the race wasn't a mile," Ward said. "I just wish we'd drawn further outside. The post pretty much forces our hand. You really don't want to be trying to take back and come around with a horse that has his kind of speed and risk the possibility he could get rank."

This Ones for Phil trumped Notonthesamepage's 114 Beyer with the 116 he earned for his 2 1/4-length victory in the Sunshine Millions Dash. That was his first start since being purchased privately and transferred to trainer Rick Dutrow. This Ones for Phil will break from the outside in post 11.

"I'm happy as I could be with him," Dutrow said. "He's coming into this race better than the last, and I love my post."

Beethoven already ran 1 1/8 miles when fourth in the Grade 3 Holy Bull four weeks ago. His chances were compromised by a wide trip from an outside post. A winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at 2, Beethoven would be a major beneficiary of a fast pace.

Taqarub has led at every call in his three victories, all of which came at six furlongs at Aqueduct. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is hopeful jockey Alan Garcia will be able to rate his speedy colt off the pace.

"Alan said he didn't have to be on the lead in his other races," McLaughlin said.

Quality Road, all the rage in the division following his well-graded maiden win at 2, could not overcome a slow start when outfinished by Theregoesjojo under allowance conditions here Jan. 10. He will be at somewhat of a disadvantage having not started since, the result of a cough he contracted shortly after his 3-year-old debut.