03/07/2017 8:08AM

Road to the Derby: Fountain of Youth Stakes analysis

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Coglianese Photos
Gunnevera and Javier Castellano gallop to victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.

Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes; 1 1/16 miles; Gulfstream Park; March 4, 2017
(50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

Winner: Gunnevera, by Dialed In
Trainer: Antonio Sano
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Owner: Peacock Racing Stables LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 97

It all came together for GUNNEVERA in the Fountain of Youth, as he got a hot pace to set up his late kick - and the patient ride he needs - to score an emphatic victory by nearly six lengths while earning the best Beyer Figure of his career.

In his prior start, the Holy Bull, Gunnevera was ridden along in the middle part of the race and had to check on the far turn. As noted in that analysis, “a contested pace in future races will help his cause.”

Yet while the pace was a big help this day, just as significant was the patience shown by Castellano, who said he learned a lot in the Holy Bull, namely that Gunnevera wants to sit back and make one run. Castellano left Gunnevera alone the first part of the race, and when he asked him to go he got the response he desired.

Gunnevera trailed the field into the first turn after getting squeezed between rivals, with Castellano wisely choosing to drop back rather than force Gunnevera to hold his position. He followed PRACTICAL JOKE into the far turn, swooped around rivals four paths wide while closing quickly, took the lead coming off the bend and then poured it on through the lane.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays, and analysis

Practical Joke, who was second, was just behind the leaders into the first turn while between horses, then had to take up at the seven-furlong pole and lost position in a chain reaction caused when TAKAFUL crossed over on LOOKIN FOR EIGHT, whose detour caused Practical Joke to check. He moved with authority on the far turn while threading his way between rivals, was tipped to the three path midway on the turn, got on even terms with THREE RULES at the three-sixteenths pole, could not stay with Gunnevera through the lane but outfinished Three Rules for the place. This was his first start of the year, and he certainly has a right to improve off of it, but I remain circumspect over his ability to be effective at longer distances. At the moment, I’m inclined to think he’s going to be best as a one-turn-mile type.

Three Rules, who was third, broke best and moved over to lead while hugging the rail around the first turn, with IRISH WAR CRY just to his outside. He volleyed for the lead down the backstretch while setting a quick half-mile fraction (47.18 seconds) over a fast but dull surface, began to get away from Irish War Cry around the far turn, showed plenty of fight to try and stave off Practical Joke when challenged, but weakened late. Considering the fractions and the fact he finished 15 1/2 lengths in front of pace adversary Irish War Cry, this was a sensational effort. But he, too, may find extra distance a hurdle, and his connections said after this race they may focus more on the Preakness than the Derby.

TALK LOGISTICS, who finished fourth, was in front of two horses while racing in the two path around the first turn, rallied three paths wide on the far turn, was fanned to the four path entering the lane, and outfinished all rest while never coming close to the top three.

Lookin for Eight, who was fifth, went into the first turn five paths wide but was cleverly angled over by Julien Leparoux and was in the two path by the midpoint of the turn despite having to steady slighty to avoid Takaful as Takaful dove to the rail. He raced just inside Practical Joke for much of the backstretch while a good distance behind the top four, could not quicken with Practical Joke or Gunnevera on the far turn, and pretty much went evenly the rest of the way.

QUINIENTOS, who was sixth, saved ground while mid-pack around the first turn, followed Lookin for Eight into the lane, and never threatened.

Irish War Cry, who was seventh, broke alertly and was right outside Three Rules into the first turn, volleyed for the lead early on the backstretch, was roused midway on the far turn, but had no response, was late to switch leads in upper stretch, and faltered.

Takaful, who was eighth, broke half a step slowly but rushed up to be four paths wide into the first turn, then was angled sharply toward by the rail by Paco Lopez and became very rank, running up on the heels of Three Rules. He did settle down midway down the backstretch, was in a good spot saving ground into the far turn, was asked aggressively midway on the final turn, but had nothing. He has run three poor route races since a dazzling debut sprinting and seems best suited to sprinting.

MADE YOU LOOK, who finished ninth, went into the first turn three paths wide while just outside of Irish War Cry, remained in third while just outside Takaful down the backstretch, started to lose ground before reaching the far turn, and stopped badly. This was his first try on dirt, so back to the turf for him.

HURACAN AMERICO was near the back of the pack throughout, and trailed going into the far turn, at which point he broke down. He had to be euthanized.