I don’t think anyone will deny that #5 Vekoma and #6 Signalman are the most accomplished runners heading into Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, a major stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
In a field of eleven three-year-olds, they’re the only proven graded stakes winners. Last year, Vekoma went 2-for-2 and defeated high-class rivals like Epic Dreamer, Mihos, Network Effect, and Call Paul in a maiden race and the Nashua Stakes (gr. III), while Signalman won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) after picking up major checks in both the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
But their success comes at a price—they’ll have to carry top weight of 122 pounds in the Fountain of Youth while conceding as many as six pounds to some talented rivals. Signalman in particular could be vulnerable; while I’ve been highly impressed by his professionalism and ability to wait in traffic and run through any opening, he brings just five workouts into Saturday’s race and surely isn’t aiming for a peak effort. He’s also been something of a “pick up the pieces” type with a late-running style that is often better-suited to finishing second or third than first.
Vekoma looks better on paper, given that he’s already run fast (97 Beyer in the Nashua), is bred to improve with maturity, and will race with Lasix for the first time on Saturday. But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that he’s returning from a layoff and making his two-turn debut.
Some will surely accuse me of taking too short a price on an untested colt, but I’m going to try to beat Vekoma and Signalman with #7 Hidden Scroll. A son of Hard Spun out of an Empire Maker mare, Hidden Scroll absolutely freaked in his debut going a mile on January 26 at Gulfstream Park, powering to the lead through fast fractions of :22.53, :44.75, and pulled away under virtually no urging whatsoever to win by 14 lengths with a massive 104 Beyer.
Hidden Scroll surely benefited from racing on the lead over a sloppy, sealed track that was favoring speed, but the fractions he set were legitimate and he absolutely obliterated the field. Trained by Bill Mott, Hidden Scroll could well be any kind, and he should sit a good trip while breaking from post seven, affording him the option of tracking the early leaders (perhaps #2 Epic Dreamer and #3 Gladiator King) or taking command if a logical opportunity presents itself. And don’t underestimate the fact that he’ll be carrying just 116 pounds.
To try and maximize the value in my opinion, I’ll take a stand with Hidden Scroll on top in the exotics while adding Vekoma, Signalman, Epic Dreamer, and the recent Gulfstream allowance winner #4 Bourbon War underneath: