`Fountain' first act in murky Derby play

Booklet, Harlan's Holiday meet again, but picture for classic thoroughly obscure

Horse Racing

February 16, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The gates leading to the Kentucky Derby will open today at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., with the 56th running of the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, the first Grade I race of the year for aspiring 3-year-olds.

With the Kentucky Derby 11 weeks away and the Preakness two weeks after that, this mid-February weekend offers an unusually clouded picture of horses on the Triple Crown trail.

Trainer John Ward Jr., who won the Derby last year with Monarchos, will saddle Booklet in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.

"I consider the 3-year-old crop this year as being a whole lot less experienced than what we had last year," Ward said. "Everybody's still prospecting. Everybody's saying, `Let's put them out there and see where they are.' "

A Florida-bred son of Notebook, the front-running Booklet will meet Harlan's Holiday for the second time in the Fountain of Youth. They ran one-two, with Booklet prevailing by less than a length, in the Holy Bull Stakes last month at Gulfstream, South Florida's premier track.

Ken McPeek trains Harlan's Holiday as well as Repent, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up who races tomorrow in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Those two potential aces give the Kentucky-based McPeek - and not Bob Baffert, Nick Zito or D. Wayne Lukas - the strongest hand as trainers begin playing their Triple Crown chips.

That high-profile trio has won 18 of the last 24 Triple Crown races. But this year, among the Daily Racing Form's top 25 Derby prospects, they train only two. Baffert conditions Danthebluegrassman, who won the Golden Gate Derby, and Zito trains High Star, who is entered in an optional claiming race today on the Fountain of Youth undercard.

The McPeek duo ranks third (Repent) and fourth (Harlan's Holiday). The California-based Siphonic, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and the undefeated Johannesburg, the Ireland-based winner of the Juvenile, rank first and second, respectively.

The Fountain of Youth abounds with promising colts such as Maybry's Boy (a late-running son of Broad Brush trained by Shug McGaughey), the undefeated Blue Burner (two-for-two in New Jersey for trainer John J. Tammaro III and one-for-one in Florida for Bill Mott), the richly bred Grey Beard (a son of Unbridled's Song out of a Danzig mare, trained by Marylander H. Graham Motion and ridden by the red-hot Edgar Prado), and the eye-catching Stephentown (a $500,000 yearling by Wild Again trained by Tony Reinstedler).

Although Stephentown's five-length allowance win at Gulfstream in January stamped him as a flashy Derby contender, Reinstedler said that this group of 3-year-olds hasn't even begun sorting itself out.

"The Derby horse might still be a maiden," the Kentuckian said.

NOTES: The Fountain of Youth, scheduled for 5:30 p.m., will be shown on tape during a half-hour broadcast beginning at 6 on ESPN. ... Yvonne Azeff, assistant trainer to Ward and an integral member of last year's Team Monarchos, has begun speaking for the first time since suffering a brain injury Jan. 26 when her pony fell on her at Gulfstream. Ward said the prospects for her full recovery are unknown. Azeff, 40, is to be transferred soon from the neurological unit of a local hospital to a rehabilitation center.

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