Last year the Grade 2 $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes produced the year’s eventual Kentucky Derby winner. A field of 13 will take to the dirt at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. on Saturday with hopes that the 1 1/16 mile prep for the Florida Derby Mar. 29 will put them on the path to the May 3 Kentucky Derby. The race is one of 16 races in the Kentucky Derby Championship series in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system. The top four finishers will pick up points for entry in the Kentucky Derby. With 50 points on the line, a win in Saturday’s Fountain of Youth would catapult the winner to the top of the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. (For an analysis of Saturday's other points race, the Risen Star, click here).
The Kentucky Derby points system replaced the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concluded February 17, the top four finishers in 18 pre-determined races were awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. In the first leg of phase two, the Championship Series, the top four finishers in 8 pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. In the second leg of the Championship Series, the top four finishers in the 8 pre-determined races receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively.
Claude “Shug” McGaughey III’s Top Billing may be the most anticipated runner to enter stakes company this weekend. This lightly-raced son of Curlin had race fans taking note when he broke his maiden at first asking over a sloppy track at Laurel Park one Friday afternoon in December. Since then he’s progressed to the allowance ranks where he lost a neck to fellow Fountain of Youth contender Commissioner Jan. 3, but came back in his next race three weeks later to win by nearly three lengths.
Many expected McGaughey’s most likely Kentucky Derby starter to be Remsen Stakes (G2) winner Honor Code, but in light of Honor Code’s delay to launch his three-year-old campaign, much talk has been made of Top Billing. He’ll face his toughest competition yet on Saturday, but would give McGaughey back-to-back Fountain of Youth victories should he prevail. McGaughey won last year’s edition of the Fountain of Youth with Orb before going on to win the Florida Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Derby (G1). Top Billing has been installed as the 7-2 second choice and will break from post 12 under jockey Joel Rosario.
On the opposite side of the starting gate, breaking from post 1, is Todd Pletcher’s Commissioner and the morning line favorite at odds of 3-1. This son of A.P. Indy has a similar race history to Top Billing, although it took him an additional try to break his maiden. Although he’s won two of his three career starts at margins of a head and a neck, his running style suggests he’ll be content to sit just off the leaders and be in contention when jockey John Velazquez asks him to go. It may be enough to hold off a late drive from Top Billing, but like Top Billing, he’ll face his toughest competition on Saturday.