Things are starting to heat up as the Kentucky Derby draws nearer. Yes, the Kentucky Derby is still two months away, but for many of the contenders it's only one or two more starts away. The Road to the Kentucky Derby points system kicks into phase two, the first leg of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, this weekend with the running of the Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla. and the Risen Star Stakes (GII) at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, La.
The new Kentucky Derby points system replaces the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season, that concluded last week, the top four finishers in 19 pre-determined races were awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively.
A total of five Grade II and three Grade III races comprise the first leg of phase two in which the top four finishers in the pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. The second leg of phase two begins Mar. 30 and includes two Grade II and five Grade I events in which the top four finishers in these pre-determined races will receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively. The series concludes with two wild card races in which the top four finishers will be awarded 20-8-4-2 points, respectively.
With 50 points on the line, a win in Saturday's Fountain of Youth or Risen Star could guarantee a newcomer a spot in the Kentucky Derby. However, there are contenders in Saturday's races that are already on the board and could elevate their standing on the points ranking with a top four finish. So, if you haven't starting following the Kentucky Derby Trail, now's the time.
The $400,000 1 1/16 mile Fountain of Youth is the first of the pair to run Saturday with a scheduled post time of 5:35 p.m. Todd Pletcher's Violence, who won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity Dec. 15, will make his first start as a three-year-old. The son of Medaglia d'Oro was undefeated in three starts last year and is currently ranked 4 in the points standings with 10 points.
"He came directly from Hollywood Park to Palm Meadows right after he won the CashCall Futurity and we sort of, at that time, decided that we felt the Fountain of Youth was a good starting point for him," said Pletcher in a national conference call earlier this week. "We freshened him up a little bit with this race in mind and we've been very fortunate that everything's gone exactly according to plan up to this point."
Falling Sky, winner of the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 2, will try to increase his winning streak to three. He held on to keep a neck in front of Dynamic Sky to win his first attempt at a route distance last out and will need to show improvement if he hopes to grab the win here.
He's Had Enough, from the same connections that brought us Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another, exits a third place finish in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes Feb. 2. The Doug O'Neil trainee has also appeared in three Grade I events, but has not yet shown the dominance his connections saw at this time last year with I'll Have Another. However, maybe He’s Had Enough can pull some Derby karma from his stable pony Lava Man, the retired champion who also accompanied I'll Have Another on his Kentucky Derby journey.
A newcomer worthy of mention is the Irish-bred Cerro. Trainer Graham Motion and owner Team Valor International, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom, send out this son of Mr. Greely. Cerro was a winner last out in a $75,000 optional claimer for non-winners of more than one, and has shown steady improvement. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps owns a piece of this colt with Team Valor, so maybe he can help him navigate the waters in the Fountain of Youth.
The remainder of the field includes Shug McGaughey’s Orb, Holy Bull fourth-place finisher Joshua’s Comprise, Eddie Kenneally’s Majestic Hussar, maiden winner Elmutahid, Mark Casse’s Sky Captain, Sam F. Davis fourth-place finisher Speak Logistics, and Gulfstream Park Derby runner-up Sr. Quisqueyano.
The race is the 11th on Gulfstream’s Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 5:35 p.m. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG. Free PPs for both the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star stakes are provided by Brisnet .
Photo: Courtesy Gulfstream Park/Jessica Hansen