02/22/2015 1:44PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Fountain of Youth Stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Itsaknockout was placed first after Upstart was disqualified Saturday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Gulfstream, Feb. 21, 2015
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Itsaknockout
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Luis Saez
Owner: Starlight Racing
Beyer Speed Figure: 95

This was one of the strangest Kentucky Derby preps in years, with FROSTED looking like he couldn’t lose at the quarter pole only to finish fourth, UPSTART crossing the wire first, and then the stewards making a much-debated decision to disqualify Upstart in favor of the runner-up ITSAKNOCKOUT.

That the race produced a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 despite the final time of 1:46.28 for 1 1/16 miles is an indication of just how slow the track was playing. The Fountain of Youth was the lone two-turn dirt race of the day. It also was run 1 hour and 34 minutes after the previous dirt race, the Davona Dale, a one-turn mile for 3-year-old fillies, in which the final quarter-mile was run in 27.01 seconds. There were two grass races between the Davona Dale and the Fountain of Youth. It was a dry, often windy day, with low humidity, and even though the track was being watered with regularity, it obviously was dry and tiring.

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Itsaknockout, placed first, was making his stakes debut and first start around two turns. He was in the second flight of horses during the run down the backstretch while racing between JUAN AND BINA and Upstart. As the field went around the far turn, he had trouble keeping pace with Upstart, who moved nearly three lengths clear of Itsaknockout, but Itsaknockout kept plugging away. He was a bit late to change leads in upper stretch, got to Upstart’s flank, and then the bumping occurred that the stewards ruled impacted the order of finish. Itsaknockout and Upstart definitely bumped in upper stretch, not long after Frosted initiated contact with Upstart. Upstart then continued to drift in front of Itsaknockout, but the question is whether Itsaknockout was empty by then and would have finished second anyway. The stewards thought otherwise. I’m not as certain.

Upstart was three paths wide on the first turn and fell into a good spot down the backstretch, in the clear outside two rivals while chasing two dueling leaders. He was asked aggressively to go after the leaders on the far turn and left the eventual winner Itsaknockout, but he wasn’t accelerating as sharply as he did in the Holy Bull. The dry track probably had something to do with it. It also could be that everyone was spent after a third quarter-mile in 23.78 seconds, which might have taken the starch out of everyone near the front. Upstart was a little late with his lead change, got past Frosted despite being bumped in his hindquarters, bumped with Itsaknockout, then drifted out under left-handed whipping from jockey Jose Ortiz but appeared to be coming away from Itsaknockout at the wire. He was disqualified from first to second.

FRAMMENTO, who finished third, remained on the rail for much of the race, then finished fastest of all through the lane after being angled out. It’s hard to evaluate his performance, since all the horses that were near the lead obviously were exhausted at the race’s end.

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Frosted, who wound up fourth, ran a baffling race. Outfitted with blinkers, he was into the race early and was lapped on leader BLUEGRASS SINGER heading down the backstretch after racing three paths wide on the first turn. He appeared to cruise to the front effortlessly on the final turn and looked like he was headed for certain victory. But between the quarter pole and the three-sixteenths pole, he started to decelerate noticeably and had no fight when challenged. He drifted out into Upstart in upper stretch and steadily faded in a race that ended at an earlier finish line than normal, owing to the race distance.

GORGEOUS BIRD raced in the clear in sixth in the field of eight during the run down the backstretch but never leveled off at any point yet was beaten only seven lengths while finishing fifth despite never getting involved.

Bluegrass Singer went to the lead from his inside draw, was no match for Frosted when Frosted went for the lead with three furlongs remaining, then tired to finish sixth. He was on the rail for much of the race, and Frosted wound up on the rail in the stretch. Combined with the position of winners in most of the main track races, it’s not inconceivable that in addition to the track being tiring, the rail might not have been the best spot on that track.

Juan and Bina raced on the rail behind the leaders, came under a hard ride with three furlongs to go, and faded to finish seventh.

DANNY BOY, who finished last of eight, was three paths wide entering the first turn, was taken to the rail soon thereafter, and was at or near the back of the pack the rest of the way.