02/28/2011 2:37PM

Soldat targets Florida Derby after Fountain of Youth win

Barbara D. Livingston
Soldat, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, is being pointed to the Florida Derby.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Soldat came out of his two-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in good order and that he’s pointing him to the Transylvania at Keeneland. McLaughlin, of course, was joking about Soldat, who is headed to the Florida Derby.

Trainer Steve Standridge said Fountain of Youth runner-up Gourmet Dinner also came out of the race in excellent shape and that he’s leaning toward the Santa Anita Derby for his horse’s next start. Standridge wasn’t kidding.

Standridge said he was considering both the Grade 1 Florida Derby here April 3 and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby six days later for Gourmet Dinner’s final Kentucky Derby prep, but at this time, the trip to California seemed the more appealing of the two options.

“The race out there might come up an easier spot, and I like the idea that it gives me almost an extra week for him,” Standridge said.

Gourmet Dinner sewed up a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby before he even turned 3, with his victory in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot in December. He’s looked even better this winter, finishing third behind Dialed In in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and putting in a big effort in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth.

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“I thought he ran super on Saturday,” Standridge said. “I think if we had a little stronger pace, we could have been a little closer. I’m not taking anything away from the winner, but he was running slower on the pace than he did in his allowance win. My horse made a nice move but couldn’t quite get there.”

Standridge was briefly concerned by the fact that Gourmet Dinner switched leads a couple of times near midstretch, but once watching the head-on replay of the race, the former rider discovered what caused the problem.

“He switched perfectly turning for home, but when Ramon [Dominguez] hit him with his right hand at midstretch, he switched to his left lead,” Standridge said. “Ramon can really hit. But a few strides later, he switched right back.”

As for Soldat, McLaughlin said the Florida Derby would be next on the agenda for the versatile colt, who led throughout in the Fountain of Youth.

“It’s five weeks to the Florida Derby and then another five weeks to the Kentucky Derby, which is perfect,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin also admitted that Soldat got a perfect trip in the Fountain of Youth.

“The race shape turned out to be just what we figured it would be, even though he didn’t break great,” McLaughlin said. “As a handicapper, we had to go to the lead in this one. Obviously, there will be a few new horses in the Florida Derby, and we know if someone like that horse who won the Hutcheson [Flashpoint] goes in there we won’t be in front. The only thing we really haven’t done much of with him is sit behind the pace, but we have five weeks to work on that. I might have him practice in the morning and put him behind horses in a workout to see how he handles it.”

Trainer Bill Mott said To Honor and Serve, who finished a tiring third in the Fountain of Youth while making his first start since winning the Grade 2 Remsen three months earlier, came out of the race well and, as expected, seemed to have needed the race.

To Honor and Serve, ridden by John Velazquez, stalked the pace while trapped three wide and took a brief run at Soldat around the second turn before weakening through the stretch to finish nearly seven lengths behind the winner in his 3-year-old debut.

“I thought he ran well the other day,” Mott said. “I was pleased, Johnny was pleased, and Mrs. Weber was pleased.”

Mott was referring Charlotte Weber, whose Live Oak Plantation owns To Honor and Serve.

“I don’t see why he wouldn’t improve off that race,” Mott said. “Johnny was pleased with his effort, and the fact he was just a little flat through the stretch wasn’t a total surprise. For us to have been competitive at that point, we’d have had to have a race under our belt like the others. I thought maybe he would have taken him [Soldat] past the eighth pole instead of kind of falling back at the quarter pole like he did, but at least he got into the race.”

Mott said the Florida Derby would be the logical option for To Honor and Serve’s final Kentucky Derby prep.

“We were thinking of the Florida Derby before this race, and we’ve still got that on our minds,” Mott said. “We don’t want to stray too far from our original plan.”

= Soldat joined Holy Bull winner Dialed In as a Florida-based eligible for the Preakness 5.5, a $5.5 million owner and trainer bonus offered by MI Developments for any horse who wins a Florida Derby prep, the Florida Derby, and the Preakness. The bonus is also available to horses competing at MID tracks on the West Coast. Thus far, Silver Medallion, the El Camino Real Derby winner, and Anthony’s Cross, who won the Robert Lewis, are eligible for the bonus. Either would also have to win the Santa Anita Derby and the Preakness.