Saturday’s 14-race Fountain of Youth Stakes Day card at Gulfstream is one of the early season’s best, and its 9 stakes offerings span most of racing’s premier divisions. The 3-year-olds get the glamour this time of year in the main event, but the Rainbow 6 kicks off with a dandy in Race 9. Four of the top five finishers in the Jan. 23 Fred W. Hooper Stakes re-match and meet a quartet of fresh faces.
Tax has won at the Grade 2 level. Performer is a Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed. Phat Man is a Grade 3 winner and runner-up in this race a year ago. The rest are out to prove their class. Tax has consistently kept the strongest running lines over the past few seasons.
Wind of Change stretches out from the 6-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint and should be winging on the front end. There’s little other confirmed pace, so rider intent will be key and the one who can sit second and get the first-over trip could be in a great spot.
At 4-5 odds, Performer was supposed to punch out the Fred W. Hooper field with more ease than he did. Instead it was a neck tussle with 13-1 shot Eye of a Jedi from 7% connections. The favorite survived, but the longshot actually galloped out better, a testament to just how uninspired Performer ran that day. This wasn’t a case of doing just enough. How dependable can we lean on PERFORMER, who has run only 8 times as his 5-year-old season unfolds? He’s run in back-to-back months just once in his career. He looks best of the Hooper returnees, though Eye of a Jedi certainly will again offer better value.
#1 Phat Man – Ridden by Paco Lopez and trained by J K Sweezey. Won the Grade 3 Fred Hooper 1 year ago, and then finished 2nd in this race last year. Since then Phat Man has not been the same horse. Las time out he put together a very lackluster performance against much of these same horses, and looks to be trending in the wrong direction. He will be bet on past results, but this 7 year old is not for me.
#2 Tax – Ridden by Junior Alvarado and trained by Danny Gargan. This is an interesting horse. He will be shortening up in distance so they have added blinkers in order to show some additional early speed. He has been racing at the 1 1/8 distance so he will have to be involved a little earlier than normal. He absolutely crushed Phat Man and Eye of a Jedi in December at Gulfstream. They then tried the Pegasus World Cup, and he was bet at 5-1, but he was in over his head there. This is a spot where he can return to the winners’ circle.
#3 Eye of A Jedi – Ridden by Marcos Meneses and trained by Steve Budhoo. As noted above, the last time out he gave Performer everything he had, and just came up short. While that does provide value if he’s at a nice price, I also wonder what it will look like if Performer or a few of these others run a really good race. Just 2 stats back Eye of a Jedi was crushed by Tax so I have hard time thinking this horse can win. He is a definite use underneath the winner on any wager type though.
#4 Performer – Ridden by Jose Ortiz and trained by Claude McGaughey. Let us start with the good – he has 8 career starts and 6 wins. He has never finished worse than 3rd. With that being said he will be over played and not worth his odds to win. He has tactical speed and versatility, but the run in the Fred Hooper shows he has no margin for error in this race. I think there will be value elsewhere, and will look to beat him.
#5 Fearless – Ridden by Irad Ortiz and trained by Todd Pletcher. This is an interesting horse off of a 9 month lay-off coming into this race. He won his first 2 races at Gulfstream Park, and looked very good doing it. He then runs in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster and it didn’t go so well at Churchill Downs. However, Todd Pletcher wins at 26% when he brings his horses off this type of lay-off. When he combines with jockey Irad Ortiz over the last 168 starts they win at a 33% rate. Todd Pletcher would not enter this horse in this race if he didn’t think he was ready. He has won from right on the lead, and he has won from well off the lead. I like the versatility, and the other factors that I mentioned here.
#6 Avant Garde – Ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Gustavo Delgado. An interesting longshot in this race is Avant Garde. He had a really good 3rd place finish here in the Fred Hooper last time out barely losing to Performer and Eye of a Jedi. In 7 starts at Gulfstream Park he has 5 wins, and 3 of those wins have been at the mile distance. He should do his best running late. I always like horses that run well at certain tracks, or distances and in this case you get both. Could be a live longshot.
#7 Wind of Change – Ridden by Leonel Reyes and trained by Amador Sanchez. This is your likely speed horse in this race, and he is also likely to fall apart in the stretch. He will take this field as far as he can, but I doubt once they get into the stretch he is going to be able to hold off the oncoming closers. He hasn’t won a race since March of 2020, and I just don’t see that changing here.
#8 Summer Kid – Ridden by Edgard Zayas and trained by Gustavo Delgado. Comes off a very nice win against allowance competition, but this isn’t allowance competition now. This is a rather large step up in class, and while this horse appears to be heading in the right direction, it would certainly take another large leap to get another victory here. He will be sitting close to the pace which should help, but it will just take a special effort here from this one.
1: #5 Fearless
2: #2 Tax
3: #6 Avant Garde
4: #4 Performer