Union Rags on Saturday attempts to become the sixth Fountain of Youth winner to take the Florida Derby since Fly So Free in 1991.
The colt, with the only blemish on his record of four victories a neck loss to Hansen in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, breezed four furlongs in 49 seconds at the Palm Meadows Training Center last Saturday.
The son of Dixie Union will be tested in Gulfstream Park’s showcase $1 million Grade 1 by two top contenders that scored in stakes at other tracks.
El Padrino, victorious in the Risen Star last month at Fair Grounds, worked the same distance at Palm Meadows on Sunday in 49 seconds. The son of Pulpit “went well,” trainer Todd Pletcher told Brisnet.com. ‘‘He seemed happy and is coming up to the race in good order.
‘‘Physically, he’s a big strong colt but has good acceleration and can be pretty tactical in his races. He’s becoming more and more professional.”
Reveron, who captured the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Calder Race Course on Saturday. The son of Songandaprayer is coming off a third place finish in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs last month.
Expected starters in the 61st Florida Derby include several that chased Union Rags in the Fountain of Youth: News Pending, second; Neck ’n Neck, fourth; and Fort Loudon, fifth.
Other likely runners are Currency Swap, runner-up twice in allowance races in ’12; Golden Ticket, second in the Tampa Bay Derby; and Take Charge Indy, with only a third in an allowance contest this year.
Alpha, winner of Aqueduct’s Gotham in February, covered five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Palm Meadows on Saturday, but is more likely to go in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial on April 7.
There have been more changes in jockey assignments: Elvis Trujillo climbs aboard Reveron, Rajiv Maragh will ride News Pending, Jeffrey Sanchez replaces Maragh on Fort Loudon and Edgar Prado is listed to ride Neck ’n Neck.
Julien Leparoux sticks with Union Rags, Javier Castellano retains the mount on El Padrino and Calvin Borel rides Take Charge Indy.
Short-price horses, including six favorites, have dominated the race in the 21st Century. Double-digit longshots have only won three of the past dozen renewals: Ice Box, $43.40 in ’10; Friends Lake, $76.90 in ’04; and Hal’s Hope, $15.80 in ’00.
Three of the winners, all favorites, went on to capture the Kentucky Derby: Big Brown, ’08; Barbaro, ’06; and Monarcos, ’01.
The largest field the past two decades was 14 in ’94 when Holy Bull won by 5 ¾ lengths. That field was four horses less than the record established in the’53 inaugural, when Sky Ship edged Handsome Teddy by a head.
Since the 1950s, I’ve witnessed just about every race, many in person and some on TV. Quite a few have been impressive, but my fondest memory goes back to 1995, when I was trackside at Gulfstream Park.
It pitted favored Suave Prospect against Thunder Gulch and eight others. I had seen in person their exciting duel in the Fountain of Youth weeks earlier when Thunder Gulch triumphed by a neck at 1 1/16 miles. The winner paid a handsome $11.40.
In the Florida Derby when the purse was $500,000, Suave Prospect was part of a three-horse entry favored over Thunder Gulch on my birthday that March 11.
Jerry Bailey, back aboard Suave Prospect, was hotter than a summer day in South Florida. He scored repeatedly. Mike Smith returned aboard Thunder Gulch. Both colts stalked pacesetters until the far turn. Then Bailey gunned Suave Prospect from fourth to the lead, 1 ½ lengths ahead in the upper stretch.
Under strong handling, Thunder Gulch closed the gap while forced inward, wore down Suave Prospect and won by a nose.
After finishing fourth in the Blue Grass, Thunder Gulch went off at 25-1 in the 121st Kentucky Derby and, with Gary Stevens aboard, edged Tejano Run, ridden by Bailey. Suave Prospect, with Julie Krone in the irons, ran 11th, followed by Talkin Man, ridden by Smith.