There are only 63 days until the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby sponsored by Yum! Brands. In these troubling economic times, it is significant to mention that Churchill Downs Corporation has been able to retain its major corporate sponsorships. Also significant is the decision by Doug Bredar, Racing Secretary at Gulfstream Park, to change the distance for today’s (Feb. 28th) $250,000 Fountain Of Youth (FOY) Stakes from 1 1/8 mile to 1 mile.
This change is being applauded as a stroke of genius because the race has attracted a full field of twelve. Bigger fields typically translate into more money being bet on the race. But for the pure fact that historically the FOY has served as a wake-up call, separating the Derby contenders from the pretenders, this year that may not be the case. Those who display the required stamina to go 9 furlongs (aka 1 1/8 mile) separate themselves from sprinters who might be able to stretch their speed to 8 furlongs…tops. Therefore, in my humble opinion, if the latter type wins the 2009 FOY, he should not necessarily go to the head of the Derby class until he proves he can go at least 1 1/8 miles (in the Florida Derby).
With that being said, the Fountain Of Youth is filled with speed, so it might set up nicely for a closer. This Ones For Phil (#12; 3-1) is the Morning Line favorite based on his huge improvement first time out for new trainer Richard Dutrow. Can you say, ”steroids”?! I’m not a believer. He’s likely to “bounce” off of that performance but could still get a share. Capt. Candyman Can (#9; 5-1) won the Grade 2 Hutcheson (7 furlongs) on the front-end but jock Julien Leparoux can harness that speed, make him a stalker here and guide him under the wire first. Beethoven (#7; 12-1) disappointed backers in his last (4th in Grade 3, 1 1/8 mile Holy Bull), but his breeding suggests he’s better suited going a mile. He’s the likely runner-up. It might be wise to use Theregoesjojo (#2; 15-1) and turf runner Jack Spratt (#5; 20-1) to round out your trifecta and superfecta. Take The Points (#4; 10-1) is also entered in the Sham stakes and is a likely scratch here. If not, he needs to be considered.
On the Left Coast at Santa Anita, a more representative Derby prep race will be run. The 9th running of the $200,000 Sham Stakes is contested at 1 1/8 mile. It has attracted eleven starters but in stark contrast to the FOY, the Sham lacks speed. Only Morning Line favorite The Pamplemousse (#5; 9-5) and Take The Points (#12; 3-1) possess early speed and might control the pace for a one-two finish. Those logical to take a lesser share of the purse include CA-bred Unbridled Roman (#11; 12-1), Mark S Cooler (#10; 15-1) and Mr. Hot Stuff (#7; 7-2).
These two races are a nice way to end the month of February. Then we move onto March Madness…for both basketball and horse racing. Enjoy the ride!