02/28/2016 12:30PM

Road to the Derby: Fountain of Youth Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Mohaymen recorded his fifth consecutive victory in the Fountain of Youth.

Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Gulfstream Park, Feb. 27, 2016

 (50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

 Winner: Mohaymen, by Tapit

 Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

 Jockey: Junior Alvarado

 Owner: Shadwell Stable

 Beyer Speed Figure: 95

 The Fountain of Youth was a mirror image of the Holy Bull, with MOHAYMEN winning a 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream Park and earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Lather, rinse, repeat.

 Each time, though, Mohaymen passes a critical test. In the Holy Bull, I loved the mid-race acceleration he showed, a pace his rivals could not match. In this race, he met horses perceived as the best he had faced to date – e.g., previously unbeaten Zulu and Awesome Banner – and kept his perfect record intact while again proving vastly superior.

 There are two ways of looking at the fact that he has received the same Beyer Speed Figure in the Remsen, the Holy Bull, and now the Fountain of Youth.

 Skeptics would say that, two starts into his 3-year-old campaign, Mohaymen has not progressed from his final start at 2, a space of three months when horses like this usually are developing and improving.

 Optimists would point out that running a gut-busting race at this stage, when the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby are, respectively, still five weeks and 10 weeks away, would be foolish.

Put the options in front of me, and I’m still buying on Mohaymen. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin utilizes all sorts of figures to help him in his training, and he’s quite cognizant of not hammering on a horse until it’s time. Mohaymen had just two half-mile works in the four weeks between the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth, so my theory is that he was not as cranked up for this race as he will be down the line, and I believe Mohaymen will have more to offer. He’ll have to have more to offer, because the assignments will only get tougher, but I still think he’s the goods.

 One final note on the fig for this race: the Beyer Boys assure me that the variant was easy to make. They split the variants for races around one turn and two, but everything else lined up. But a part of me wonders if the track late in the day was similar to earlier in the day. There were 3 hours 44 minutes between the Davona Dale and the Fountain of Youth on a day with low humidity and a breeze, and the Fountain of Youth (off time 5:42 pm) was the only dirt race on the card run after the Davona Dale (off time 1:58 pm). Without another dirt race within hailing distance of the Fountain of Youth, I’m not willing to say with certainty that the track changed, or didn’t. But if it did change, it would stand to reason it was slightly slower later in the day, and that would have added a couple of points to Mohaymen’s fig.

 In the Fountain of Youth, Mohaymen started from the outside post in the field of six and was kept wide around the first turn, though he did bump briefly with AWESOME SPEED after Awesome Speed took a solid bump from the overmatched GOLDEN RAY, who had no business being in this race (more on that later).

 So, while Mohaymen was in the clear around the first turn, he was forced to race four paths wide to stay away from the peril to his inside. He advanced between ZULU and Awesome Speed down the backstretch, again showing the mid-race acceleration I love. That enabled him to be three paths wide, outside Zulu and AWESOME BANNER, heading into the far turn. He and Zulu left Awesome Banner with a quarter-mile remaining, and after turning into the stretch Mohaymen quickly put daylight between himself and Zulu. They race to the first finish line in 1 1/16-mile races at Gulfstream, so the wire came up abruptly, but Alvarado already was gearing down Mohaymen in the closing yards. He was, again, much the best, and as I said earlier, I’m of the belief he was not fully cranked for this race.

 Zulu, who finished second, broke well and was not involved in the early bumping to his outside. He settled into second on the first turn after Awesome Banner crossed over to lead, and stayed in that position down the backstretch, with jockey John Velazquez repeatedly looking back for Mohaymen. Zulu was forced to move to hold his position when Mohaymen ranged up outside of him, received several cracks of the whip left-handed beginning on the far turn, but could not keep up with Mohaymen, who always appeared to be going the better of the two. This was his first time around two turns, and his stakes debut. He was a brat in the post parade and at the starting gate, so those issues will have to be worked out, but in terms of the race, he performed well, just was simply second-best.

 FELLOWSHIP, who finished third, lacked speed per usual and trailed into the first turn. He was able to save ground on the far turn when commencing his rally, had to go around tiring stablemate Awesome Banner a quarter-mile out, but was outrun through the lane. He actually was closer to the top two in upper stretch than he was at the finish. He’s not good enough to threaten the top two, but he’s proven a useful horse who is a gimmick player’s dream horse for tris and supers.

 Awesome Speed, who was fourth, was banged into in his left hindquarters by Golden Ray soon after the start, then took another bump into the first turn, causing him to bang into Mohaymen. He was forced to race three to four paths wide on the first turn while trying to stay away from Golden Ray, then raced in the middle of the track down the backstretch. He had no response when Mohaymen came up inside him midway down the backstretch and came under an aggressive ride with more than three furlongs to go. He stayed well wide even with an opportunity to drop in on the far turn, and never threatened. Perhaps getting banged into on the first turn threw him off his game thereafter, because he never was into it this day.

Awesome Banner, who was fifth, had sharp speed leaving the gate, which was fortunate, because he was able to cross over before the mayhem that was caused by Golden Ray began. He got to the rail around the first turn and set a solid pace (23.52 seconds, 47.07), needed to be asked hard when Zulu challenged him for the lead with a little more than three furlongs to go, but he was done and steadily faded. Maybe he would have been better off being let roll and utilizing more of his natural speed, but more likely he can’t stay the trip and will be best suited by going back to sprinting.

 Golden Ray, who finished last of six, angled out leaving the gate and banged into the left hindquarters of Awesome Speed, bumped into Awesome Speed again into the first turn, continued to lug out around the turn while being difficult for rider Miguel Vasquez to control, finally settled down into the backstretch, was asked to keep up heading toward the far turn but was unable to do so while clearly overmatched.

 Golden Ray was hustled into the race at the 11th hour when Cherry Wine was forced to miss the race. His recent main-track credentials were finishing last of seven in the Mucho Macho Man, and last of nine in an overnight stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 19. His career-best fig on dirt was a 69. I guess the prospect of a five-horse field without Golden Ray was deemed less desirable than having a six-horse field with Golden Ray for this important Derby prep. Tracks hustle horses like this a lot when faced with small fields for big stakes, and I don’t get it. To think a horse like that is going to help handle for gimmicks is short-sighted. The five originally in the box were the right five. The race didn’t need window dressing, especially cheap, potentially dangerous window dressing. Golden Ray certainly hurt the chances – and perhaps the hindquarters -- of Awesome Speed, and if posts had been different, might have caused big problems for horses like Mohaymen or Zulu. It would have been some story to write if Golden Ray had been the horse who ended up literally knocking Mohaymen from the Derby trail.