Eskendereya pulls away in Fountain of Youth Stakes
Eskendereya took the lead entering the final turn and pulled away for an 8 1/2-length victory Saturday in the $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Eskendereya, ridden by John Velazquez and trained by Todd Pletcher, covered the 1 1-8th miles in 1:48.87 for his third victory in five starts.
``You've got to be excited when they perform like that in these kinds of races at this time of year,'' Pletcher said. ``I was particularly pleased with the way he finished. I don't think we've ever gotten to the bottom of him.''
Jackson Bend was second, followed by Aikenite in third another three-quarters of a length back. Race favorite Buddy's Saint was bumped going around the first turn and finished ninth in the 10-horse field.
Pletcher said the Zayat Stable-owned Eskendereya, who also won across Gulfstream's main track Jan. 7 in a first-level allowance race, would likely run next March 20 in the $750,000 Florida Derby, a key prep for the Kentucky Derby.
``He's had two wins over the track now so the Florida Derby would seem logical for him,'' Pletcher said.
Ahmed Zayat called the victory ``heartwarming.''
Zayat filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Feb. 3 after his stable was sued Dec. 15 by Fifth Third Bancorp, claiming Zayat defaulted on two loans and owed the Cincinnati-based bank $34.2 million.
``I knew the distance would suit him,'' Zayat said. ``He does not get tired. This horse can run 1 1/2 miles. I was very impressed the way he took the lead early.''
Ninth in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile when he was steadied and bounced around going into the first turn, Eskendereya broke cleanly from the No. 8 post and was second around the first turn and down the backstretch, a length behind Lost Aptitude.
``I didn't want to take too good a hold of him out of the gate, and I got to a point early on the backstretch where I started to move forward with him,'' Velazquez said. ``I was hoping that I didn't take too much out of him.''
Approaching the final turn, Eskendereya carried Velazquez past Lost Aptitude, shook of a bold move by Jackson Bend, and opened up with each stride down the stretch. Velazquez hit the colt twice above the eighth pole then hand-rode him to the finish.
``It was a great feeling when he kicked in and accelerated away from them,'' Velazquez added. ``He galloped out really well, and I hope he can learn to relax just a bit more in the first part of the race. If he does, I don't think he'll have any trouble going further.''
In another 3-year-old prep race at Gulfstream, D'Funnybone moved three-wide along the turn before driving away from six others to win the $150,000 Hutcheson by a length while covering seven furlongs in 1:22.14.
Trainer Richard Dutrow said D'Funnybone, winner of last year's Saratoga Special and Belmont Futurity, would likely be pointed toward the Florida Derby.