HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Carrying the colors of past Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Charismatic, High Yield catapulted to the front of Derby contenders yesterday with a dominant victory in the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Although High Yield triumphed by 3 1/4 lengths over a strong 11-horse field, the victory occurred on a racing strip suited more to stock cars than thoroughbreds. Horses with speed won nearly every race. Closers, the kind handicappers often look for in the Kentucky Derby, had little chance.
Greenwood Lake turned in perhaps the most Derby-like performance. As many as 30 lengths behind -- and last entering the far turn -- he passed seven horses before finishing a hard-driving fourth.
Greenwood Lake's trainer, Nick Zito, accomplished at preparing horses for the spring classics, said afterward that the colt was "amazing" for what he'd done. Before the race, Zito bet $200 on Greenwood Lake to win the Kentucky Derby in a futures wager offered by Churchill Downs, site of the Derby on May 6.
"That's just the way this surface has been for 61 years," Zito said of Gulfstream's sun-drenched dirt track. "It's very hard for closers to win here."
The track favored a horse such as High Yield, an experienced and speedy runner with a Hall of Fame jockey (Pat Day) and Hall of Fame trainer (D. Wayne Lukas). They huddled in the saddling area before the race and decided that High Yield would be better off in the lead than several lengths back.
"We can only run over the strip you give us," Lukas said.
Asked whether High Yield should be the early Kentucky Derby favorite, Lukas said: "At this point, you've got to like him. He's our favorite today."
Beverly and Bob Lewis, who campaigned Silver Charm and Charismatic to victories in the Derby and Preakness in 1997 and 1999, respectively, share ownership of High Yield with Susan Magnier of Ireland and Michael Tabor of England. Tabor's Thunder Gulch won the 1995 Derby.
The Lewis-Magnier-Tabor team paid $1,050,000 for High Yield as a yearling. He is a son of Storm Cat, the country's most expensive stallion at $300,000 a breeding.
High Yield, the 2-1 favorite, paid $6.80 to win. His time of 1 minute, 42 2/5 seconds equaled the fifth fastest of 53 Fountain of Youths run at 1 1/16 miles.
Hal's Hope, second nearly every step, tried valiantly but couldn't pass High Yield around the far turn and then faded down the stretch. Trained by 88-year-old Harold J. Rose, Hal's Hope at 10-1 completed the $75.20 exacta.
The Elliott Walden-trained Elite Mercedes (9-1) finished third, followed by Greenwood Lake (7-2), American Bullet (54-1), Un Fino Vino (8-1), Deputy Warlock (23-1), Polish Miner (5-1), Rupert Herd (35-1), Ben the Man (8-1) and Personal First (18-1).
After finishing second in two major stakes in Southern California, High Yield provided the first East-West clash of 3-year-olds. The last four winners of the Kentucky Derby have wintered in California.
"He represented horses on the West Coast very well today," said Lukas, winning trainer of three of the past five Kentucky Derbys. "The steps get steeper the farther you go, but I couldn't be more pleased with his development.
"If he can get two more good ones [Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes], we can go over there with some degree of confidence that we'll be competitive on the first Saturday in May."
In The Unbridled, a $75,000 allowance race for 3-year-olds on the Fountain of Youth undercard, two Maryland horses faltered in their bid to advance along the Kentucky Derby trail. One suffered a probable career-ending injury.
Wayward Ways, trained by H. Graham Motion, sustained a condylar fracture of his left foreleg (a fracture in the equivalent of the human shin bone). His jockey, Edgar Prado, slowed him down around the far turn. The horse did not fall. Motion said the Wild Again colt would undergo surgery to repair the break.
Grundlefoot, trained by Gary Capuano, finished fourth in the six-horse field. Capuano instructed his jockey, Jerry Bailey, to urge Grundlefoot early to keep him closer than usual to the leaders. Afterward, Bailey said that the strategy failed, that Grundlefoot would be better off doing what he wanted: dropping far back and then charging late to the wire.
Zito won the Unbridled with Bare Outline, a Kentucky-bred son of Broad Brush. He completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 43 4/5 seconds and paid $18 to win. The 2-1 favorite Tahkodha Hills and Bullet Buzz finished second and third, respectively.