Top Billing looks for Fountain of Youth win
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) Last year, Orb's win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park started him and trainer Shug McGaughey on the road to victories in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
McGaughey will seek to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth again on Saturday with Top Billing, a colt that has raced just three times and is gaining a national following with a come-from-behind style similar to Orb.
Like Orb in 2013, Top Billing will make his stakes debut in the Fountain of Youth. The 1 1/16 mile stakes race for 3-year olds has 13 entrants and a $400,000 purse.
Top Billing has been so impressive in winning two of his three starts that he is the 7-2 second choice in the morning line.
The 3-1 favorite is Commissioner, who beat Top Billing by a neck in a 1 1/8 mile allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 3. Both horses have two wins and a second-place finish in three starts.
The Fountain of Youth also has General a Rod and Wildcat Red, each with a stakes win at one mile or shorter at Gulfstream this year.
But the buildup for the race has been mostly about the aptly named Top Billing, a son of Curlin who won the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008.
"Orb was more experienced at this time last year than Top Billing is now," McGaughey said. "Top Billing developed slowly, and he wasn't ready to start racing until late in the year. Now he is showing that he has talent and he has a great mind."
Top Billing's first race was Dec. 6. He won by 5 1/4 lengths at six furlongs on a sloppy track at Laurel Park in Maryland.
In his race against Commissioner, he was squeezed between that horse and third-place finisher Hy Kodiak Warrior in the stretch run. That led some fans to debate whether Commissioner or Top Billing had run a better race.
Commissioner won in 1:50.72, a solid early-season time for a 3-year-old.
Top Billing won a 1 1/16 mile allowance by 2 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream on Jan. 25. He was last after a half-mile in all of his races.
On Jan. 1, General a Rod beat Wildcat Red by a head after a lengthy stretch duel in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby. Wildcat Red, trained by Jose Garoffalo, followed that by winning the Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 1.
The Fountain of Youth will be first race longer than a mile and the first around two turns for General a Rod, trained by Mike Maker, and for Wildcat Red.
Top Billing and Commissioner are near the top of many racing analysts' lists of contenders for the Kentucky Derby, to be run May 3 at Churchill downs.
Fountain of Youth entrant We Miss Artie won last year's Grade 1 Kentucky Breeders' Futurity at 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic surface at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. He hasn't hit the board in his two dirt track starts.
Post positions could play an important role in the Fountain of Youth
Top Billing has post 12, which can be a big disadvantage because the run to the first turn is only about 100 yards for 1 1/16 mile dirt races at Gulfstream.
"I would have wanted something around (post) seven,'" McGaughey said. "But we'll just want Joel (jockey Joel Rosarto) to get him to a spot where he won't get a lot of dirt kicked in his face and will get a clean run,"
Commissioner, ridden by John Velazquez, has post one and will need a clean break from the gate to avoid being squeezed near the rail early in the race.
Wildcat Red and General a Rod are in posts five and six, and probably will be among the early leaders, along with Almost Famous and Hesinfront.
Medal Count, Casiguapo, C. Zee, Best Plan Yet. Our Caravan, and East Hall are the others in the Fountain of Youth field.