02/27/2016 7:49PM

Mohaymen sets stage for Florida Derby showdown by winning Fountain of Youth

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mohaymen, ridden by Junior Alvarado, remains unbeaten in five starts by taking the Fountain of Youth by 2 1/4 lengths.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – The challengers keep getting a bit better for Mohaymen, but the end result remains the same. He’s the best 3-year-old in Florida, perhaps in the country, but a compelling showdown looms five weeks hence.

 On Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Mohaymen knocked Zulu and Awesome Banner from the ranks of the unbeaten when they met in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes. And now, in his final start before the Kentucky Derby on May 7, he’ll put his unbeaten record on the line against another undefeated colt, Nyquist, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, in the Florida Derby here on April 2.

 The allure for Nyquist, who is based in California, is both the timing – five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby – and a $1 million bonus, as he was purchased out of a sale by race sponsor Fasig-Tipton. The allure for Mohaymen is also the timing, but he’s got the home-field advantage. Regardless, Saturday’s Fountain of Youth set the stage for a rare match-up in the final Derby prep between two unbeaten colts who are based on opposite coasts.

 “I hope they change their mind,” Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Mohaymen, said in the winner’s circle on Saturday. “Nyquist is a very talented horse. But this is home for us. No matter where we’d go, there’d be plenty of good horses we’d have to challenge.”

 Mohaymen continues to raise his already prolific game. In the Fountain of Youth, he had to avoid a rank longshot who tried to cause havoc on the first turn, made a middle move to secure position down the backstretch, and then disposed of Zulu through the lane while scoring by 2 1/4 lengths. He completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:42.84.

 Mohaymen earned a first prize of $245,520, and picked up 50 points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby, giving him a total of 70 following previous 10-point wins in the Holy Bull and Remsen.

 Zulu, in only his third start, first in a stakes, and first around two turns, ran well to be second, four lengths in front of Fellowship.

“I was proud of his effort,” said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Zulu. “He was second-best today and hopefully something we can improve on and build on.”

 Awesome Speed wound up fourth, and was followed, in order, by Awesome Banner and Golden Ray.

 Mohaymen, by Tapit, is now 5 for 5, with four stakes wins, three around two turns.

 “He’s special. He does things different. He’s not even blowing,” McLaughlin said.

 McLaughlin admitted the prospect of remaining unbeaten is “nerve-wracking,” but that is overlaid with his belief that Mohaymen is a bona fide, top-class colt.

 “He’s a very talented horse and he keeps winning. That’s all we can do,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a special colt, very smart. He’s great mentally. He doesn’t get all hot and bothered.”

 That poise came in handy during the race. Mohaymen ($2.80), starting from the outside post in the field of six, was carried four paths wide around the first turn but never lost his focus nor became overanxious when avoiding 131-1 longshot Golden Ray, who crashed into Awesome Speed shortly after the start and tried to lug out around the first turn.

 “I wanted to stay away from that horse, but I didn’t want to lose too much ground,” said jockey Junior Alvarado, who has been aboard Mohaymen for all his races.

 Alvarado said that around the five-furlong pole, Mohaymen began creeping forward on his own.

“I didn’t want to go against him,” Alvarado said. “I didn’t want to fight him.”

Mohaymen rocketed past Awesome Speed, who midway through the race was struggling to keep up while racing wide. Mohaymen then ranged up outside both Zulu and Awesome Banner heading into the far turn. Awesome Banner was the first to drop away, and Zulu could not keep pace.

 “Turning for home I just made sure he switched leads, then reminded him to finish up for me, and then I left him alone coming to the finish,” Alvarado said.

 Mohaymen, by Tapit, was purchased for $2.2 million as a yearling by the Shadwell Stable of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum of Dubai.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch