02/24/2012 2:26PM

Gulfstream: Fountain of Youth should sharpen Kentucky Derby picture

Barbara D. Livingston
Algorithms keeps in shape at the Palm Meadows training center, gearing up for the Fountain of Youth.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – In college basketball, midseason meetings between the number one- and number two-ranked teams are well-hyped, often meaningless, and usually long forgotten by the time the Big Dance rolls around. On the Kentucky Derby trail, confrontations between the number one and two prospects 10 weeks in advance of the main event are rare, highly anticipated, and a bit more relevant – but perhaps no real harbinger of what to expect on the first Saturday of May.

On Sunday at Gulfstream Park, Union Rags and Algorithms, currently just about everybody’s consensus picks as the two leading Derby prospects, lock horns at 1 1/16 miles in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth. The Grade 2 Fountain of Youth serves as the last key local prep for the marquee event here each winter, the Grade 1 Florida Derby, on March 31.

[MORE: Watch the Fountain of Youth LIVE on DRF.com]

Union Rags and Algorithms head a field of eight 3-year-olds that also includes the undefeated and yet-untested Discreet Dancer as well as Fort Loudon, Casual Trick, Neck ‘n Neck, News Pending and Csaba.

Union Rags has not started since finishing second following a somewhat eventful trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Winner of the Grade 1 Champagne stakes earlier at 2, Union Rags was given some time off following the Breeders’ Cup before rejoining trainer Michael Matz’s stable at Palm Meadows around the first of the year and has worked six times in preparation for his 3-year-old debut in the Fountain of Youth.

“Other than having a race, he’s as ready as he can possibly be,” said Matz, who is hoping to return to the Derby, which he won six years ago with Barbaro.

Matz has made no bones about the fact that the Fountain of Youth is merely one step on the road to preparing Union Rags to peak on Derby day.

“We’re not going to pull out all the stops for this race. The idea is to give him two starts and get him to the Derby in top condition,” said Matz. “Fortunately we don’t have to worry about graded earnings. That relieves some of the pressure of having to run real well the first time back.”

Naturally, many people are already trying to make comparisons between Union Rags and Barbaro.

“I think this colt is more laid-back than Barbaro,” said Matz. “He’s bigger and more mature than Barbaro at this point. Barbaro only had two races at 2, but he had five races under his belt by the time he got to the Derby, and if all goes well, Union Rags will have six.”

About the only real controversy surrounding the Fountain of Youth revolved around jockey Javier Castellano’s choice of mounts for the race. Castellano, the leading rider here this winter, has been the regular rider for Union Rags, Algorithms, and Discreet Dancer. In the end, he chose Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth, with Julien Leparoux picking up the mount on Union Rags and John Velazquez set to ride Discreet Dancer.

Perhaps trainer Todd Pletcher’s biggest concern on Sunday is that barring a dead heat, at least one of his two Fountain of Youth contenders will exit the race having suffered his first career defeat. Algorithms is 3 for 3, including an easy victory over reigning 2-year-old champion Hansen in the one-mile Holy Bull. Discreet Dancer has won his first two starts, both locally, by an average margin of nearly eight lengths.

“I don’t ever like to run two of my horses against each other, especially two undefeated colts. One of them is going to have a loss after this race, and you hate that,” said Pletcher. “But this race is about these two horses’ development, that’s what our main focus is, not solely about this weekend but moving forward as well.”

Pletcher said he expects Discreet Dancer would likely be the pacesetter and Algorithms would be stalking the leader on Sunday.

“Both are very kind horses who can do what their rider wants them to do,” said Pletcher.

Trainer Nick Zito is hopeful Casual Trick, runner-up in the Gulfstream Park Derby, will rebound from his disappointing performance as the favorite in a first-level allow race on Jan. 29.

“I’ve just got to throw his last race out,” said Zito. “For whatever reason, maybe it was the wet track, he flipped his palate and just shut down. Hopefully that won’t be the case on Sunday. I don’t have to sugarcoat anything. In my opinion the best horses in the world are in Florida, and if he can hang right in with this field, I’m in great shape.”

Fountain of Youth S. (G2), Post Time: 5:13 ET Sunday

Purse: $400,000; 1 1/16 mile





ML Odds


Neck 'n Neck

I. Wilkes

J. Lezcano




T. Pletcher

J. Castellano



Fort Loudon

S. Gold

R. Maragh



Casual Trick

N. Zito

C. Nakatani



Discreet Dancer

T. Pletcher

J. Velazquez



News Pending

D. Romans

K. Desormeaux



Union Rags

M. Matz

J. Leparoux




P. Gleaves

P. Lopez