The Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park should go a long way toward sorting out the Florida-based Kentucky Derby contenders this weekend, with more big preps on the horizon the following week.
There also is a Derby prep in Ireland -- a race won last year by Mendelssohn.
Here's a look at those, and a look ahead to an even bigger weekend seven days later.
Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park is one of those races where a horse or two is liable to jump up and make a case for stardom. Several of the 11 3-year-old colts have flashed the promise of big ability. This is the point where they move forward -- or not -- toward the first Saturday of May in Louisville.
Signalman sent all the right signals last year -- second in the Grade I Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and first in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club under the Twin Spires. Kenny McPeek saddles the General Quarters colt for his first start of 2019 and a good effort would move him right up on many Derby lists.
Hidden Scroll, a Hard Spun colt, made his first start Jan. 28 in the slop at Gulfstream for trainer Bill Mott and won by 14 lengths, stirring mucho comment. That was 1 mile versus who-knows-what and this is asking much more. Even so, he was installed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite.
Code of Honor was second in the Grade I Champagne last fall and prepped for this with a fourth in the Mucho Macho Man. Bourbon War was fourth in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct, then won easily Jan. 18 at Gulfstream. Vekoma, a Candy Ride colt, was 2-for-2 as a 2-year-old, winning the Grade III Nashua at the Big A in his second start. This is his 3-year-old bow. Global Campaign is 2-for-2, both starts this year at Gulfstream. Everfast, who hasn't always been real speedy, was fast enough to finish second -- at odds of 128-1 -- in the Holy Bull, behind Harvey Wallbanger.
Maximus Mischief, the 2018 Remsen winner who would have been among the favorites after finishing third in the Holy Bull, has been detoured off the Triple Crown trail entirely because of a soft-tissue injury. His connections hope to have him back in competition in the fall.
The Fountain of Youth offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points on the 50-20-10-5 scale.
Friday's BetVictor Patton Stakes at Dundalk Park in England, part of the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" and a de facto "O'Brien Fest," was abandoned because of a medical emergency involving on-site Irish racing officials. A rescheduled date was not immediately announced.
Whenever run, confirmations for the 1-mile race on the all-weather Polytrack course are dominated by the Coolmore-O'Brien bunch.
Aidan O'Brien, who won this last year with Mendelssohn, saddles three runners, led by Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy third Western Australia. Ryan Moore is named to ride. Completing the Ballydoyle three are Van Beethoven, with Donnacha O'Brien up, winner of the Group 2 Railway Stakes at the Curragh in June, and promising Gowran Park maiden victor Albuquerque, who gets Seamie Heffernan in the irons. A fourth entry in the eight-horse field, Numerian, is trained by Joseph Patrick O'Brien. Numerian races in the name of Anne Marie O'Brien, Aidan's wife and mother of both Joseph Patrick and Donnacha.
Don't overlook the Dundalk race just because Mendelssohn finished last in the 2018 Run for the Roses. Aidan O'Brien said he and Moore both learned from the experience at Louisville, when Mendelssohn was bounced around at the start, losing all chance. He said the chaotic start in the Churchill Downs slop was "the most brutal thing I've ever seen, anywhere in the world," telling Racing Post in retrospect, "Circumstances didn't work out for him there, or on other days. He probably ended up being a little bit of a guinea pig because we were learning as we were going along with him."
Looking forward another seven days, the second weekend of March, with only eight weeks to go, is chock full of "semifinals" for the Run for the Roses. The San Felipe at Santa Anita is expected to pit Bob Baffert's "big two" of Improbable and Game Winner. That race, the San Felipe, the Gotham at Aqueduct and the Tampa Bay Derby all offer 50 points to the winner. The Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park the same weekend awards 20-8-4-2 points.
If you can't be there in person, catch all the action Saturday from Gulfstream Park on Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net), the official radio network of the Triple Crown. And for profound thoughts about the fields, see HRRN analyst Jude Feld at www.popejude.com.
The 2018 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Award winner Jaywalk drew the inside post for her 3-year-old debut in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park. The Cross Traffic filly posted four straight wins at four different tracks to wrap up her juvenile campaign and faces six rivals here.
Cookie Dough also makes her first start of 2019 after winning the final two legs of the Florida Sire Series last fall. Bold Script ran well enough last season at Woodbine, finishing with a victory in the Princess Elizabeth. Others easily could move forward but if Jaywalk is ready and up to her juvenile standards, she will take a lot of beating.