It was a sunny, cool and windy day at Gulfstream Park for the 71st running of the Fountain of Youth Stakes. It was good racing weather and the cooler air and lack of humidity saw all 10 starters go to the gate without incident and without any of the hopefuls getting hit and or bothered at the start.
Races often come down to timing and moves riders make — and when and how they are made. This year’s Fountain of Youth was a good example of this. We saw three important moves, all of which impacted the race.
On paper, Takaful, under Paco Lopez, appeared to be the controlling speed. He broke from the nine-hole with just one horse outside him, and the no. 9 post position is not where you want to be going a mile and a sixteenth at Gulfstream Park. Perhaps it was the post that kept Takaful from the front early or maybe it was Lopez’s choice or instructions. Whatever the reason, Lopez found himself fighting Takaful, who he guided to the inside down the backstretch. The first move was made by Lopez. He rushed Takaful up the inside, which forced the pace some, but had to slam on the brakes, costing Takaful whatever slim shot he may have had to win it.
The next move was electrifying.
Practical Joke, making his three-year-old debut for Chad Brown, raised eyebrows throughout the Gulfstream Park grandstand when he exploded to the lead with a powerful, eye-catching burst under Jose Ortiz. It looked as if Ortiz wanted to get the jump on Gunnevera — and he sure did. It was the kind of move that looked like it would propel Practical Joke to victory.
It didn’t… and I suspect Ortiz might have feared it wouldn’t, as he glanced back, which I thought was odd considering the momentum he had. It was as if something hit him and said someone’s coming or you moved too soon. Practical Joke went from looking as if he returned a monster to looking like a horse in deep water. In reality, it was a great comeback race and would have been good enough to win plenty of races, but not this one.
Practical Joke’s move was followed by an even more electrifying one by Gunnevera. The race looked on paper as if there was plenty of speed and the two logical closers were, indeed, Practical Joke and Gunnevera. They ran just that way too. As Ortiz was reaching the top with Practical Joke, jockey Javier Castellano was letting Gunnevera explode and follow him, eventually catching and inhaling him. Once Gunnevera got by Practical Joke, he made mincemeat out of the field and drew off with authority.
It was a great race to watch, as you just had to go “wow” when Practical Joke made his move, and “wow” again when Gunnevera followed with an almost identical one to top it. Practical Joke held on for second. It definitely looked like a useful race and his connections are likely happy and looking to go forward off the race. Gunnevera’s connections were ecstatic and you did not have to ask them, you could hear and see it as they ran from the owners’ boxes to the winner’s circle.
Pacesetter Three Rings held on for third. Irish War Cry, who enjoyed an easy lead to win the Holy Bull, suffered his first defeat after chasing Three Rings and backing up.
I am not so sure Gunnevera stamped himself a Kentucky Derby horse with this win. He’s been in training a long time without a break and I really don’t see him going forward off this race. I think we saw his best today and it was real good, but I don’t think it was good enough to wear the roses come the first Saturday in May. I can see Practical Joke moving forward and turning the tables in the future.