Head to Head: Handicapping Fountain of Youth 2023

Head to Head: Handicapping Fountain of Youth 2023
Photo: Gonzalo Anteliz Jr. / Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, to be contested Saturday at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park, drew a solid field of 10.

Forte returns to the races for the first time since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and securing champion 2-year-old male honors. Champagne (G1) winner Blazing Sevens also is making his seasonal debut. Up and coming Rocket Can will attempt to prove he is a legitimate Kentucky Derby 2023 contender by knocking those two off.

Click here for Gulfstream Park entries and results.

Along with $235,600 of the purse, the winner will receive 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. The second- through fifth-place finishers will receive 20-15-10-5 points.

Since 2000, Holy Bull (G3) winners Greatest Honour, Mohaymen and Booklet have doubled up in the Fountain of Youth. In 2015, Upstart won both races but was disqualified to second because of impeding Itsaknockout in the stretch.

Last year’s Fountain of Youth winner Simplification ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Code of Honor, who won the Fountain of Youth in 2019, was promoted to second in the Kentucky Derby after the disqualification of Maximum Security. The 2016 winner Mohaymen also was fourth in his Kentucky Derby. The last colt to complete the Fountain of Youth/Kentucky Derby double was Orb in 2013. Prior to Orb, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Thunder Gulch completed the feat.

The forecast in South Florida is for a mostly sunny Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, making for perfect conditions. Post time for the feature will be at 5:43 p.m. EST.

Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast and Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power embark on an adventure through the Everglades in hopes of eternal youth and a winner. Mornine-line odds are in parentheses.



1. General Jim (6-1)

The beaten favorite in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, General Jim, was boxed on the rail through the stretch. Luis Saez had a ton of horse with nowhere to go. Saez didn’t make that error in the Swale, and Into Mischief’s son galloped under the wire with his ears up, earning a career-best Brisnet Speed Rating. Adding to the intrigue, Shug McGaughey seeks his third straight Fountain of Youth victory with a horse breaking from the rail. In 2019, Code of Honor was fourth in the Mucho Macho Man before winning the Fountain of Youth. Hmmm ... Exotics.

A son of Into Mischief, General Jim has been successful on turf and dirt, winning a maiden and allowance race on the lawn and the Swale (G3) on dirt last out. Two starts back he ran well in the Mucho Macho Man but lost third in the stretch, missing the win to Legacy Isle by just 1 1/2 lengths. The 97 Brisnet Speed Rating he earned in the Swale is one of the best in the field, but he still needs to prove that he can get 1 1/16 miles on the dirt, not just the turf. Exotics.

2. Legacy Isle (20-1)

In the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, Legacy Isle hinted that a mile was his limit after he bore out in the stretch and was disqualified. He cemented the assumption when he failed his two-turn test in the Holy Bull (G3), fading after pressing the pace. Although his dam was a turf router, only one half-sibling won beyond a mile. Legacy Isle could be lone speed, or perhaps he’ll contend with recent maiden winner Mage or Dangerous Ride to his outside. Maybe he'll hang on for a piece of the fountain, but I prefer others. Pass.


Mucho Macho Man winner Legacy Isle entered the Holy Bull (G3) undefeated but lost ground in the stretch, dropping back from 1 1/4 lengths from the front to finish 7 1/4 lengths behind winner Rocket Can. Trainer Rohan Crichton is winless in graded stakes and takes the blinkers off the son of Shackleford, an angle in which he is successful 13 percent of the time. Although he likes Gulfstream (4: 2-1-0), he is looking like a sprinter. Pass.


3. Shadow Dragon (12-1)

Look at Shadow Dragon. He hung out at the back of the pack in the Holy Bull and then circled the field and slowly gained ground on his stubborn stablemate Rocket Can, missing by only three-quarters of a length. The Holy Bull was Shadow Dragon’s first off a layoff and his first try against graded-stakes company. He passed the test and should be stronger in the Fountain of Youth. So why is this guy 12-1? I’ll take it. Contender.


Shadow Dragon outran his 34-1 odds in the Holy Bull (G3) to close for second, just three-quarters of a length behind Rocket Can. Prior to that he finished sixth, beaten 15 lengths in the New York-bred Sleepy Hollow, off a maiden win. Trainer Bill Mott is 18 percent in graded stakes and 48 percent in the money, and he is 22 percent with runners second off the layoff and 53 percent in the money. With jockey Jose Ortiz he’s winning at a 50 percent clip and 83 percent in the money. He really must have liked Gulfstream, because he took a huge step forward from the Sleepy Hollow to the Holy Bull, his speed rating jumping from a 70 to a 93. I’m honestly not sure if the Holy Bull was a fluke, so use underneath.


4. Forte (7-5)

The 2-year-old champ Forte shows up here for his 3-year-old debut. Can he become the third horse in 14 years to win the Fountain of Youth off the layoff? This undoubtedly is a prep for the Florida Derby and a chance to shake the dust off. He may be good enough to win, but the Pletcher trainee isn’t my top pick. Exotics.


Champion Forte has just one blemish on his record, a fourth-place finish in the Sanford (G3) in his second career start. After that he rattled off wins in the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Trainer Todd Pletcher gave the son of Violence a well-deserved break, and this will be his 2023 unveiling. He earned two triple-digit speed ratings during his juvenile win streak, and his 101 in the Hopeful is tied for best in the field. The four-month layoff is the biggest question here, although Pletcher is winning at 24 percent with runners off a 90- or more day layoff (52 percent in the money). Red-hot Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in the irons once again. Contender.


5. Il Miracolo (30-1)

The well-bred Il Miracolo’s sole victory was in a maiden special weight where he set the pace and ran off by 5 1/2 lengths. Since then, crickets. He’s struggled in three straight stakes while chasing the pace. Pass.


Il Miracolo’s three forays into stakes company resulted in three losses by a combined 47 lengths. His best speed rating is the 85 he earned in his fourth start, his only win and the only race in which he had the lead. Trainer Antonio Sano is just 2 percent in graded stakes and 17 percent in the money. Pass.


6. Blazing Sevens (7-2)

Blazing Sevens returns after a troubled fourth place in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Forte beat him twice, but this Chad Brown trainee has the pedigree to improve with maturity. All the comments for Forte apply here. Exotics.


Champagne (G1) winner Blazing Sevens, like Forte, has not been seen since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he ran fourth after being bumped and bothered at the start. He earned a career-best 94 speed rating for that effort. Trainer Chad Brown is winning at a 27 percent clip with runners off a 90- or more day layoff and 61 percent in the money, at a 27 percent clip with shippers and 60 percent in the money and at a 22 percent rate in graded stakes and 56 percent in the money. However, Joel Rosario will be aboard for the first time, and he’s been on a cold streak in the big races, including a winless rate with Brown recently. Exotics.


7. Mage (8-1)

Mage sparkled in his debut and beat more experienced horses by 3 3/4 lengths. His performance earned an eye-catching 101 speed rating. Mage is by Good Magic out of a Grade 2-placed half-sister to multiple Grade 1 stakes-winning turf router Finnegan’s Wake, so there’s class in his family, and he’s bred for classic distances. Gustavo Delgado is 0 for 6 with 3-year-old last-out maiden winners. However, two hit the exotics in stakes. Mage posed a sharp, five-furlong, pre-race move, but the concern is whether he’ll regress in his second start. His odds likely will climb, but he’s worth a look as a live exotics long shot.


Trainer Gustavo Delgado unveiled this son of Good Magic on Jan. 28. The colt established the lead and never looked back, cruising to a 3 3/4-length win in the seven-furlong maiden event, sharing a field-best speed rating of 101. However, Delgado is just 17 percent with first-time routers and 33 percent in the money, 4 percent in graded stakes and 42 percent in the money and 4 percent with last-race maiden winners and 36 percent in the money. Mage does get a jockey upgrade to Javier Castellano, however. Exotics.


8. Rocket Can (8-1)

Rocket Can took the long way round in the Holy Bull, chasing the pace on the outside. The pretty gray colt kept his ears pinned the entire way, typical of offspring of his damsire Tapit. Nevertheless, the Mott trainee posted a solid speed rating and should progress off the effort. Contender.

Since stretching out to two turns and switching to a pace-pressing style, Rocket Can has gone 3: 2-1-0, including winning the Holy Bull (G3) last out. Two starts back, Rocket Can lost a narrow decision to Confidence Game, who just won the Rebel (G2) last weekend. This will be his first time facing champion Forte, but he has the advantage of having a race under his girth over the Gulfstream track. Trainer Bill Mott is 22 percent with runners second off the layoff and 53 percent in the money and 23 percent with last-race winners and 51 percent in the money. Junior Alvarado retains the mount and has been winning at a 18 percent clip with Mott and 41 percent in the money. Contender.


9. Cyclone Mischief (12-1)

Cyclone Mischief has a win-lose cycle and had the worst finish of his career in the Holy Bull (G3), finishing 11 lengths behind Rocket Can after racing in traffic near the pace. He’ll have to go wide around the first turn and be used early to get position, but if you’re into the recent trend of Derby prep-winning long shots, here’s your horse. Exotics.


Cyclone Mischief was my top pick in the Holy Bull (G3), but he finished a non-threatening seventh. He previously had finished a close seventh, beaten by just 2 3/4 lengths in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). This field is tougher than the Holy Bull was, so Cyclone Mischief is toast if he turns in a similar performance. That 99 speed rating he earned two starts back looked really good but appears to be a one-off. Pass.


10. Dangerous Ride (30-1)

Dangerous Ride earned a career-best 88 speed rating against optional claimers in his last start. He’s run eight times in the last seven months and wasn’t competitive against open-stakes company. Limehouse’s son adds distance and will go wide around the first turn. I don’t see him as a danger. Pass.


Dangerous Ride spent most of his career thus far racing on turf or Tapeta with six starts over those surfaces vs. three on dirt. He earned a career-best 88 Brisnet Speed Rating last out when he took a seven-furlong optional claimer gate to wire. His best stakes finishes have been in Florida-state-bred races, a pair of seconds. Pass.


Final thoughts

Since 2008, only three Fountain of Youth winners lost ground in their previous start. Four Fountain of Youth favorites rewarded their backers with a victory, and five completed the trifecta. Ten of the last 14 winners were making their second start off the layoff, and all except one won or placed in that prep.

In the previous seven years, five Holy Bull winners or runners-up were successful in the Fountain of Youth.

This year’s Fountain of Youth has a nice mix of pacesetters, pace pressers and one-run closers, and no running style has been favored in previous editions.

Rocket Can, Shadow Dragon and General Jim fit the profiles of previous winners. However, I feel General Jim needs to take a step forward to be competitive with the top two but is worth including on your superfecta tickets.

Forte and Blazing Sevens are prepping for bigger and better. Both need Derby qualifying points, but they don’t have to win.

In the last five years at Gulfstream, five of Todd Pletcher’s 3-year-olds made their first start of the season in a graded stakes. One placed, and two finished third. Chad Brown has fared better with four runners, one winner, one place and a third.

I’m putting Shadow Dragon on top. He closed on his stablemate in the late stages of the Holy Bull. However, the post doesn’t matter for the one-run closer. Pace-pressing Rocket Can will be wide around the first turn and may have another wide trip.

Forte has tactical speed and should save some ground from post 4. He’ll be something special to win off the layoff, but he shouldn’t be totally dismissed. Blazing Sevens twice finished behind Forte last year, but this is a new year, and these colts are improving rapidly.

Ashley: We finally get the 2023 debuts of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and fourth-place finishers Forte and Blazing Sevens after four months away from the starting gate. Both of Blazing Sevens’s career losses were at the hooves of Forte, so it’ll be interesting to see which of them has moved forward more. It’s also going to be a tall task for both to shake off the rust to beat a field that’s bringing some talent.

Legacy Isle is the inside speed but should take pressure from Mage and Cyclone Mischief along with, perhaps, long shots Il Miracolo and Dangerous Ride. Forte is well-drawn to pick out a good trip as is Blazing Sevens. Rocket Can is drawn a bit wide for this distance, but he won’t be gunning for the lead, and he did win from this exact post in the Holy Bull, so I’ll be using him to beat the morning-line favorites.

Shadow Dragon is mystifying me. He ran huge in the Holy Bull, including a 108 late-pace rating from Brisnet, but he very easily could bounce off that. As enticing as that 12-1 is, I’m going to have to go with the proven commodity of Blazing Sevens and throw sparkling maiden winner Mage in there for good measure.




3. Shadow Dragon (12-1)

8. Rocket Can (8-1)

8. Rocket Can (8-1)

4. Forte (7-5)

4. Forte (7-5)

6. Blazing Sevens (7-2)

6. Blazing Sevens (7-2)

7. Mage (8-1)

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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