03/02/2006 12:00AM

First Samurai faces distance question

First Samurai tries to stretch out in Saturday's Fountain of Youth.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - First Samurai is the class and likely the controlling speed of Saturday's $300,000 at Gulfstream Park. That combination would normally make him an unbeatable proposition in the Grade 2 fixture, which serves as the final major local prep for the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1.

But there is just enough question about First Samurai's ability to stay the 1 1/8 miles of the Fountain of Youth to give his nine rivals hope of pulling off the upset and for handicappers to perhaps try to play against a horse is likely to go off in the vicinity of a 7-5 favorite.

The Fountain of Youth is one of six stakes on Gulfstream Park's Spectacular Saturday III card, which includes another potential Florida Derby prep, the Grade 2, seven-furlong Swale. The other four stakes are the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Grade 2 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup, the Grade 3 Honey Fox, and the Grade 3 The Very One.

First Samurai holds a huge class advantage in the Fountain of Youth. He is a two-time Grade 1 winner and was the beaten favorite in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The only stakes winner in the Fountain of Youth field is Can't Beat It, who won the Hallandale Beach Stakes on the grass. First Samurai figures to be able to relax on a relatively soft pace if he breaks alertly. He exits the 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes in which he chased Keyed Entry in that undefeated colt's record-setting performance.

But even trainer Frank Brothers would be hard-pressed to guarantee that First Samurai will stay the 1 1/8 miles, though he appears confident his colt will handle the added distance.

"There's a little gray area there," Brothers said earlier this week when asked about First Samurai's ability to stay the extra ground. "But physically he's a big, strong horse and he'll relax. The good ones improve from 2 to 3. That's the key to any of them, and I see no reason to think he won't."

Edgar Prado, who rode First Samurai for the first time in the Hutcheson, replacing the recently retired Jerry Bailey, will again have the call for the Fountain of Youth.

Great Point, My Golden Song, and Flashy Bull - the second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers in last month's Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes - will all be hoping First Samurai comes up wanting in the final furlong of the Fountain of Youth.

Great Point dropped nearly 20 lengths off the pace of the Holy Bull after breaking from post 12, then finished full of run to be second, less than a length behind Barbaro. Trainer Nick Zito was hoping for better luck in the post position draw for the Fountain of Youth, and got his wish when Great Point drew the rail and his other runner in the race, Hemingway's Key, drew post 3.

"He had to run twice as hard as the others from that post, and I didn't want to put him through that again," said Zito of Great Point. "Obviously he had a tough race, but he came back with a bullet work and he seems to be sustaining his form nicely."

Great Point worked a half-mile in 46.20 seconds on Feb. 17. A son of Point Given, he has shown marked improvement since being equipped with blinkers for the first time in his 2-year-old finale at Calder on Dec. 24.

My Golden Song was parked wide throughout after breaking from post 9 in the Holy Bull and ran gamely to finish third. Like Great Point, he fared better in the Fountain of Youth draw; he will break between the Zito pair from post 2.

"I thought he ran a good race in the Holy Bull," said his trainer, Todd Pletcher. "He ran hard despite not liking the track. He's had poor racing luck in both starts here this winter. Hopefully, he'll get a fast track and a good trip, and we'll see if he's good enough to run with these kind of horses.

"First Samurai is clearly the most accomplished member of the field, but he'll be trying to do something he's never done before, and I'll be as interested as everybody else to see if he's up to the task."

Flashy Bull was hung wide from post 8 in the Holy Bull and might face a similar fate breaking from post 10 on Saturday. He'll be one of two starters in the race for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who also sends out the improving Jazil.

Can't Beat It earned a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure in his win in the Hallandale Beach on turf, and he did win his maiden around two turns on dirt.

Corinthian overcame trouble to beat Jazil under first-level allowance conditions on Feb. 2 and brings a two-race win streak into the Fountain of Youth.

Rehoboth, an impressive second-level allowance winner going 6 1/2 furlongs earlier this winter, and Itsallaboutthechase, runner-up in the one-mile Aventura, complete the lineup.

The field

Fountain of Youth
Purse: $300,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1Great PointJ. Rose1165-1
2My Golden SongJ. Velazquez1168-1
3Hemingway's KeyR. Douglas11620-1
4JazilC. Velasquez11620-1
5ItsallboutthechaseM. Guidry11610-1
6First SamuraiE. Prado1204-5
7CorinthianJ. Castellano11610-1
8RehobothS. Bridgmohan11630-1
9Can't Beat ItE. Castro11650-1
10Flashy BullR. Bejarano1166-1

* Odds by Art Gropper