Some lofty reputations are about to fall in Monday's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, the first major distance race of the year for Derby-age colts.
This 1 1/16-mile event has drawn three big names among its 14 entrants. Stephan's Odyssey won the $1 million Hollywood Futurity last fall. Proud Truth earned much acclaim with a six-length victory in an allowance race here last week. Mighty Appealing, one of the top 2-year-olds of last season, has a new jockey as he seeks to rebound from a bad defeat in his first start of the winter.
It is likely this race will put to rest Mighty Appealing's aspirations for the 3-year-old classics. Trainer Dean Gaudet thought Might Appealing had been a victim of bad racing luck when he finished eighth in the Hutcheson Stakes, and will bring Vincent Bracciale Jr. from Maryland to ride him on Monday. But there isn't much reason to think he will improve; certainly the clockers here don't see any.
One of them described his training since the Hutcheson in succinct fashion: "Putrid."
Proud Truth's vulnerability is apparent only to serious handicappers. When the colt ran away to a six-length victory last week, trainer John Veitch exclaimed, "This is just the beginning!" and a national newspaper described him as "the most talked-about horse in Florida."
In fact, when he won here, he sat behind a speed duel and when the weak leaders collapsed, he slipped through along the rail and blew past them. It was a perfect trip, optimal racing luck, and yet Proud Truth didn't run impressively fast.
He has to do a lot more to justify his reputation.
Stephan's Odyssey is a harder horse to gauge. He is trained by a master, Woody Stephens, and he did win the biggest purse of the year for 2-year-olds last season. But the Hollywood Futurity was a strange kind of race. The pace was insanely fast, and horses who were running 8-10-11-12-13 after a quarter mile finished 1-2-3-4-5 after all the speed collapsed.
So the big finish of Stephan's Odyssey may not have been as impressive as it looked.
Monday, racing fans should know a lot more about his capabilities.
But there is one colt in the Fountain of Youth lineup who is a proven commodity, who is possibly the horse to beat, even though he has no glamor or reputation attached to his name.
Irish Sur is a son of a thoroughly obscure sire, Surreal; he is stabled year-round at Calder Race Course.
But he won his last start, the Tropical Park Derby at Calder, with a powerful move on the turn and through the stretch.
He's been beaten only once in five distance races, and he suffered the loss only when he had a ridiculously slow pace in front of him. Humble though his origins may be, Irish Sur could tarnish at least a few of the big reputations in the Fountain of Youth.