By Gene Kershner
Life on the Derby trail won't start to heat up until next weekend's Grade 3 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, a showdown between top 3-year-olds Union Rags and Holy Bull winner Algorithms.
Adding to the intrigue to next Sunday's big race is the fact that jockey Javier Castellano took off of Union Rags, runner-up in the 2-year old division and the Breeders' Cup (BC) Juvenile last year, to ride Algorithms for top trainer Todd Pletcher.
The biggest prep race this weekend is Sunday's 7-furlong San Vicente, which has attracted only six horses to Santa Anita on Sunday afternoon. Creative Cause and Drill will headline the race and each will give up five pounds to the other four horses in the race. Creative Cause, third in the BC Juvenile at Churchill by a length, makes his first start of the year for Mike Harrington and has Joel Rosario in the irons. Drill, a Bob Baffert-trainee, impressive on the poly last summer at Del Mar, is still trying to find himself after finishing fifth in the non-graded San Pedro earlier in the Santa Anita meet. American Act, with Martin Pedroza aboard, comes out of a key race where he defeated Baffert's Bodemeister, a big winner last weekend, to break his maiden in January. He could be the surprise horse in this race.
Elsewhere, Graham Motion decided to pass on next weekend's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes in favor of an allowance race at Gulfstream for defending Derby champ Animal Kingdom's 2012 debut and prep race for the $10 million Dubai World Cup. He'll run 1 1/16-miles on the turf, a surface he finished second on last March in a one-mile allowance race before winning the Spiral at Turfway Park en route to the Derby.
Motion is just looking to get a good race under him before making the grueling trip to Dubai and a chance at a huge payday.Also on Saturday's card in Hallandale is the Grade 2 $300,000 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, in which eight older horses square off in the $150,000 stakes race, the feature race on the card.
Post Time favorite and 6-year old Capt. Candyman Can (3-1) takes on BC Sprint runner-up Force Freeze (8-5 ML favorite) in the 7-furlong sprint on the Gulfstream strip. You could get some value with Pletcher's Simba's Story (5-1), who is running third off the layoff and has shown improvement in each of his races this winter. Pletcher, who won his 3,000th career race last Saturday, is winning at a white hot 38 percent at Gulfstream and shouldn't be discounted here. The Chief, Allen Jerkens, sends out Bold Warrior (5-1) in this super competitive sprint race.
Sunday's big Gulfstream race features older fillies and mares in the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 3 $150,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes. Gulfstream Park owner Frank Stronach purchased Her Smile for $1 million after she finished third in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She moves from the Pletcher barn and owner Bobby Flay to the Capitol District's Chad Brown. Pletcher will try to beat his former filly with a solid filly of his own, R Holiday Mood, winner of last year's Miss Preakness Stakes and a winner already in an earlier non-graded stake at Gulfstream in January.
So there's plenty of racing action in store over the next few days, including a free NHC online handicapping contest on Saturday, for those who have registered for the 2012 NHC Tour ($50 fee).
Good luck this weekend and let's go cash some tickets!