Ete Indien put on a show in the Feb. 29 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, drawing off decisively to win by 8 1/2 lengths. He has made tremendous strides since switching from turf to dirt three starts ago, and the front-runner looks poised to play catch-me-if-you-can in the Kentucky Derby.
Florent Geroux picked up the mount from an injured Luca Panici and hustled Ete Indien straight to the lead from post 10, with the dark bay sophomore crossing in front of the field before the first turn. The Patrick Biancone-trained colt just cruised the rest of the way, widening the advantage dramatically nearing the conclusion of the far turn, and Ete Indien appeared to lose focus while drifting out under the finish line unopposed.
It was a big-time performance. Considering he dictated terms at 1 1/16 miles, Ete Indien must still prove himself over longer distances, but he now has a star quality to him. A Kentucky-bred son of Summer Front, Ete Indien earned 50 points winning the Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, increasing his total to 54, and virtually guaranteed himself a spot in the projected 20-horse field on May 2.
Overlooked at 14-1 when switching to dirt in an entry-level allowance in mid-December, Ete Indien toyed with rivals recording a 2 1/2-length decision. The Feb. 1 Holy Bull (G3) represented a serious class check, and Ete Indien held nicely for second, 11 1/2 lengths clear of third, while proving no match late against Tiz the Law, who established himself as an early Kentucky Derby favorite posting an impressive three-length win.
The Fountain of Youth drew more speed than the Holy Bull, and saddled with the far outside post following the defection of Chance It, Ete Indien was dismissed by bettors as the 3.30-1 third choice. He displayed a dynamic turn of early foot on Saturday, and speed can be a valuable tool in the Kentucky Derby, with Orb (2013) being the last confirmed late-running winner.
Other front-running types are aiming for this year’s Derby, and they will face a serious challenge to establish early positioning. With century-topping Brisnet E1 Pace ratings in every dirt start, Ete Indien promises to be on the engine at Churchill Downs. His Brisnet numbers are strong across the board, registering a commendable 103 Speed rating in the Fountain of Youth, the third consecutive triple-digit number since switching surfaces.
Next comes a tantalizing rematch against Tiz the Law in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on March 28.
Ete Indien’s run style serves as a compliment to stablemate Sole Volante, who will bring his late kick to Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby (G2) for Biancone.
Dennis’ Moment came up empty in his first start since early November, weakening to last as the 13-10 Fountain of Youth favorite, and the exciting 2-year-old performer has now failed to beat a horse in back-to-back starts. Dale Romans plans to regroup and point for the April 4 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland, where Dennis’ Moment can still qualify for the first leg of the American Triple Crown, but the colt’s frail psyche may be poorly suited for a 20-horse Derby field.
Candy Tycoon got up for second, edging As Seen On Tv by a neck. After performing marginally at one-turn distances and on turf, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt improved significantly when stretching out to two turns on Jan. 25, breaking his maiden going away by four lengths. Candy Tycoon took plenty of kickback while saving ground from his rail post in the Fountain of Youth, and the 23-1 outsider proceeded to lose ground while being carried extremely wide into the stretch. He showed determination out-finishing a trio of rivals, with second-through-fifth being separated by less than a length, and while Candy Tycoon still has much to prove, I’m intrigued to see if he keeps moving forward in the final prep.
Fifth-placer Country Grammer, unraced since breaking his maiden at Aqueduct in mid-November, also ran well from off the pace to just miss second in his first stakes attempt. He’s one to watch going forward for Chad Brown.
Maxfield recorded his third workout Sunday, a half-mile bullet move at Palm Meadows. The Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner still need points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, and trainer Brendan Walsh indicated Maxfield won’t be ready for the races before April. He may not make it back in time for the final round of Kentucky Derby preps, which would make the May 16 Preakness (G1) a likely target.
Mr. Monomoy, wire-to-wire winner of the Risen Star first division, has been sidelined. He is expected back later in the season, but the Brad Cox-trained colt will bypass the Triple Crown races.
Kentucky Derby Future Wager
Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager opens Friday at noon (ET) and run through Sunday at 6 p.m. (ET).
The San Felipe (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) are eligible to impact the Kentucky Derby picture this weekend, and I will preview both fields below.
Saturday’s Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct will be contested over a one-turn mile, which makes it an attractive option for speedy 3-year-olds, and Mischevious Alex rates as a top contender in the 11-horse field following his seven-length triumph in the 7-furlong Swale (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
Tampa Bay Derby:
#1 Texas Swing: One of three for Todd Pletcher, Curlin colt steps up after breaking his maiden at Tampa on the Davis undercard in his second start. Javier Castellano picks up mount.
#2 Spa City: He posted the fastest 3-year-old maiden race this year, receiving a 103 Brisnet Speed rating when taking a 1 1/8-mile event at Gulfstream on Feb. 8, and Kiaran McLaughlin trains the Godolphin homebred son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. Daniel Centeno replaces an injured Jose Ortiz.
#3 Relentless Dancer: Louisiana-bred stakes winner weakened to be a well-beaten fourth when trying open stakes rivals in Holy Bull.
#4 Chance It: Mucho Macho Man S. winner was re-routed after receiving a wide draw in last week’s Fountain of Youth (G2). Saffie Joseph trainee has registered strong Speed numbers in the last three starts (103-102-103), and versatile colt showed his tractability rating just off the early speed last time. Paco Lopez will be up.
#5 Market Analysis: Pletcher pupil exits a sharp debut score at Gulfstream, winning by nearly a length at 7-furlongs, and was flattered when the runner-up came back to crush maiden foes. Gray son of Honor Code shows a half-mile bullet work in preparation, and serious contender will be forwardly placed with John Velazquez.
#6 Mo Mosa: Turfway maiden winner looks too slow based on Speed figures.
#7 Sole Volante: Impressed when making first two-turn dirt start in Sam F. Davis (G3), rallying past odds-on favorite Independence Hall to post a 2 1/2-length triumph, and received a commendable 102 Brisnet Speed rating. Florent Geroux, who was up on stablemate Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth, replaces an injured Luca Panici aboard the confirmed closer.
#8 Letmeno: Makes second start back this year for Ian Wilkes, but stakes-placed juvenile a non-factor in his last two outings.
#9 Unrighteous: Maiden adds blinkers for third start and jumps straight to stakes competition for Pletcher after finishing a clear second to Spa City.
#10 Bye Bye Martin: Enters in good form for Graham Motion, recording back-to-back wins over maiden and entry-level allowance foes on Tampa’s turf, but his lack of dirt form is a concern from an outside post.
#11 King Guillermo: Turf maiden scorer didn’t fire in lone dirt start and returns from a 98-day hiatus in a difficult spot.
#12 Tons of Gold: Winless from eight starts, he appears overmatched.
#1 Fort McHenry: Makes first start for Doug O’Neill, but gelding appears in too deep.
#2 Honor A. P.: Eye-catching maiden winner rates as a wildcard in return from a five-month layoff. An $850,000 son of Honor Code, John Shirreffs trainee doesn’t have to win the first race back; eligible to keep moving forward with respectable effort.
#3 Wrecking Crew: Thrice stakes-paced, including a third at 39-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), he exits a dull showing in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).
#4 Authentic: A brilliant 7 ¾-length winner of the Sham (G3), Into Mischief colt brings serious speed to his third career start for five-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert.
#5 Thousand Words: $1 million purchase by Pioneerof the Nile, two-time stakes victor has narrowly prevailed in all three starts, and long-striding colt looks like the type who will keep progressing for Baffert. His Brisnet Speed ratings need to increase, registering a 92 taking the Robert B. Lewis (G3) last time, and we’ll see if he has the acceleration to reel in speedy foes Saturday.
#6 Storm the Court: A 45-1 upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, bay colt is eligible to improve after recording an even fourth in his comebacker, the 7-furlong San Vicente (G2). Questions remain whether he is good enough to handle this assignment.
#7 Swagsational: He’s won three straight for Heath Lawrence, but late runner netted only a 74 Speed rating capturing the Turf Paradise Derby last out.
Kentucky Derby top 10
1 Tiz the Law: Breezed half-mile Monday after brief absence from worktab; Florida Derby next
2 Thousand Words: San Felipe represents key test
3 Enforceable: Commendable runner-up effort in Risen Star first division
4 Ete Indien: Florida Derby next for spectacular Fountain of Youth winner
5 Sole Volante: Looks to make a late impact in Tampa Bay Derby
6 Nadal: Rebel next for exciting Baffert trainee
7 Silver Prospector: Southwest winner to meet new challengers in Rebel
8 Wells Bayou: Southwest runner-up headed to Rebel for Cox
9 Candy Tycoon: Fountain of Youth runner-up progressing for Pletcher
10 Basin: Hopeful winner to return in Rebel
I will recap three Kentucky Derby qualifiers, and preview the fields for the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park and Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway on March 14.