General A Rod Ready for 2-Turn Test in Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Pletcher Sends We Miss Artie to Main Track in Fountain of Youth
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ General a Rod made a most favorable impression on Jan. 1 when the Mike Maker-trained 3-year-old captured the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby with a performance that has only become more noteworthy in pursuing weeks.
Although the son of Roman Ruler is set to go to post in Saturdayâ€™s $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream without a race since his New Yearâ€™s Day triumph, his first stakes win was flattered by runner-up Wildcat Redâ€™s 4 Â¾-length romp in the $200,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) on Feb. 1.
â€œHe just gives us confidence the way heâ€™s doing. Heâ€™s becoming the horse that we thought he would be, and the other horses he ran against doing well certainly enhances things a bit,â€ said Maker, who trains the Kentucky-bred colt for J. Armando Rodriguez. â€œBut there are different circumstances in this race.â€
General a Rod, who captured the one-turn, one-mile Gulfstream Derby by a head over Wildcat Red, is scheduled to make his first start in more than seven weeks and his first start around two turns in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth.
â€œHeâ€™s a big horse that weâ€™ve been taking our time with. I didnâ€™t want to train him for all the races here. The timing was right for this race, and the mile-and-a-sixteenth makes it better,â€ Maker said. â€œI donâ€™t see any problem with him getting two-turns at all. Heâ€™s a pretty aggressive horse and his gallop-outs in his works are always strong.â€
General a Rod debuted on Oct. 18 in a seven-furlong race over Keenelandâ€™s synthetic surface, closing from off the pace to draw away to a 2 Â¾-length victory that survived an inquiry for drifting in during the stretch run. He returned in a Churchill Downs allowance race in which he finished second behind Conquest Titan, who subsequently finished second in the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream on Jan. 25, while wearing blinkers for the first time.
â€œHe was very green. It was something we flirted with even before his race. We thought with time, heâ€™d get better and better. But when he did that (drifting in), there was an inquiry in the race, so we put blinkers on him,â€ Maker said. â€œTheyâ€™ve helped him, but when he gets in front, he still gets lost. Last time, any time in the race, he looked like a winner, but he just didnâ€™t want to draw away from the other horse (Wildcat Red). After that race, heâ€™s changed for the better.â€
General a Rod, who is rated third at 5-1 in the 13-horse Fountain of Youth, will be ridden by Javier Castellano for the first time after Joel Rosario opted to ride Top Billing, a recent impressive allowance winner for trainer Shug McGaughey, trainer of 2013 Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Orb. Top Billing is rated second in the morning line at 7-2 behind Todd Pletcher-trained Commissioner, the 3-1 favorite.
Pletcher Sends We Miss Artie to Main Track in Fountain of Youth
A winner on both grass and Polytrack, We Miss Artie goes after his first victory on dirt in Saturdayâ€™s $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, We Miss Artie is by Artie Schiller, a multiple graded stakes winner on grass including the 2005 Breedersâ€™ Cup Mile (G1).
We Miss Artie opened his 3-year-old campaign finishing second by a head to Storming Inti after a stretch-long duel in the $100,000 Kittenâ€™s Joy on Jan. 19 over the Gulfstream turf.
Since then, he has had two half-mile works at the Palm Meadows training facility in Boynton Beach, each in 48 seconds, ranking second of 67 horses on Feb. 9 and third of 55 horses on Feb. 16.
â€œThe bottom is, the horse is just training too well on the dirt at Palm Meadows not to give it another try,â€ Pletcher said. â€œHis breezes since the Kittenâ€™s Joy have been really good on the dirt, and we just feel like heâ€™s a horse that over the past eight or nine months has continued to impress us with his training on the dirt. Weâ€™ll just see where we are.â€
In his two dirt starts at 2, We Miss Artie was second in a five-furlong sprint at Belmont Park on July 4 and seventh, beaten four lengths, in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
â€œHe actually loomed up and made a big move in the Breedersâ€™ Cup, and I thought it was a pretty respectable effort,â€ Pletcher said. â€œHeâ€™s trained so well we feel like he deserves another chance. We know heâ€™s good on the synthetic as well, so weâ€™ve got those options if this doesnâ€™t pan out, but we figured it was time to find out.â€
We Miss Artie will be ridden by Joe Bravo in the Fountain of Youth and break from post 2 in the field of 13. The Pletcher-trained Commissioner, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, drew post 1 in his stakes debut.
â€œIn a big field like this, you certainly donâ€™t want to get stuck way outside, although the one probably wouldnâ€™t be my first choice either,â€ Pletcher said of the draw. â€œConsidering the size of the field, Iâ€™m okay with it.
â€œWeâ€™ll size up the field and see what we think the pace scenario is going to look like. Both of these horses are not the kind of horses that you could put on the lead, so weâ€™ll try to get a good stalking position and hopefully secure some position going into the first turn. Those guys are going to have to size it up from there in a big field.â€
Kaplan Seeks Return to Triple Crown
Seven years since Imawildandcrazyguy ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and sixth in the Belmont Stakes (G1), trainer Bill Kaplan is eyeing a return to the Triple Crown trail.
Kaplan, who turned 68 on Feb. 15, has Florida-breds East Hall and Weâ€™re All Set entered on Saturdayâ€™s card at Gulfstream Park, each in races with potential Triple Crown implications: East Hall in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2), and Weâ€™re All Set in a stakes-quality dirt allowance at 1 1/16 miles.
Owned by Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice, East Hall drew the extreme outside in the 13-horse Fountain of Youth, also contested at 1 1/16 miles. He is winless in four starts, never beaten by more than 2 Â½ lengths, in since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream on Oct. 19.
This year, he was third by 2 Â¼ lengths to General a Rod and Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, and closed to be third by a neck in the OBS Championship Stakes in Ocala on Jan. 21. General a Rod and Wildcat Red, who went on the take the Hutcheson (G3) on Feb. 1, both return in the Fountain of Youth.
â€œWe think heâ€™s a very high-caliber horse,â€ Kaplan said. â€œThe race we gave him up at OBS, he was very much the best. He was five wide both turns and was still coming at the end, and only got beat a neck for everything. Heâ€™s a very nice horse, and we do want to test him against the top 3-year-olds. Iâ€™m very high on East Hallâ€™s ability. I think he deserves a shot on the Triple Crown trail.â€
Weâ€™re All Set drew post five in race six, where eight of the 10 horses entered are Triple Crown nominated. Among the 3-year-olds with Derby aspirations are Tonalist, impressive Gulfstream maiden winner on Jan. 18; Grade 2-placed Wicked Strong, off the board in the $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull (G2) on Jan. 25; Mexicoma, sixth in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic (G1) in his last start; and Todd Pletcher-trained maiden winners Constitution and Matterhorn.
â€œThatâ€™s what you expect here at Gulfstream in the Championship meet, because these big guys from up north donâ€™t bring down their bums,â€ Kaplan said. â€œThey bring down their top 3-year-olds, and theyâ€™re all trying to get into that Triple Crown picture. I knew it wasnâ€™t going to be an easy spot, but itâ€™s a good spot for a good test on him.
Owned by Ione and Herbert Elkins, Weâ€™re All Set has made one start this year, finishing third behind top Fountain of Youth contender Top Billing in an 8 Â½-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 25. A son of Grade 3 winner With Distinction, Weâ€™re All Set was second to Wildcat Red in a 6 Â½-furlong maiden sprint in the fall and third in Calderâ€™s In Reality Stakes to Best Plan Yet, also headed for the Fountain of Youth.
â€œWeâ€™re All Set is a specimen,â€ Kaplan said. â€œHeâ€™s one of the biggest and most attractive horses Iâ€™ve ever had. Heâ€™s developing nicely and this is another step toward that. He has to improve a little bit but if he does, heâ€™ll show very well in this race I think.
â€œHeâ€™s got a huge stride on him,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s a very big horse and heâ€™s going to get better as he gets older. Iâ€™m trying to get him to the point where I feel comfortable trying him in the classic races. Hopefully, heâ€™ll move forward with this one. If he wins this one, then youâ€™ll probably see him in the Florida Derby. But, heâ€™ll have to win this race.â€
The 62nd renewal of the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby, at 1 1/8 miles, will be run on March 29.
Also entered for Kaplan on Saturday is 3-year-old filly Holiday Magic in the $200,000 Davona Dale (G2). The bay daughter of Congrats won the Brave Raj Stakes last fall at Calder and was third in her seasonal debut at the OBS Championship Stakes on Jan. 21.
Among those going in the Davona Dale are undefeated Onlyforyou and multiple graded stakes winner Stopchargingmaria, both trained by Pletcher, as well as Grade 2-placed Penwith and Aureliaâ€™s Belle.
â€œSheâ€™s coming into it great, and everything looks good on her,â€ Kaplan said. â€œThereâ€™s some tough horses in there, but weâ€™ll see. Sheâ€™s doing well.â€