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Can Capt. Candyman Can snare the Youth?

Capt. Candyman CanThis Saturday will see the second-to-last prep for many a three-year-old for the Kentucky Derby. As the Derby contenders are nominated based on their graded stakes earnings, a victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream or the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita are essential for several of these horses; but for those who have been working along this Derby trail, winning either of these races will serve as an affirmation they belong in Kentucky in the first Saturday in May. We will see many familiar faces, including Capt. Candyman Can, Beethoven, and The Pamplemousse, but there are several new contenders who are stepping to up to the task, including the untested Taqarub.

While both graded stakes races have drawn a full 12-horse field, the names in the Fountain of Youth may be more recognizable. In fact, several of these horses have raced each other before, so what makes this task any different, you might ask? Well, the distance, for one. For the first time in the Fountain of Youth’s history, the race will be run at eight furlongs instead of nine–that’s an even one mile. There are some horses like Theregoesjojo who have never run at as far as a mile, and there are some who will be shortening up, like Beethoven, who finished a well-beaten fourth in the Holy Bull and might’ve needed that extra distance. 

Capt. Candyman Can will likely go off as the favorite for the Fountain of Youth, coming off his win in the Hutcheson Stakes at last outing; but his dream trip may not repeat in this larger field, and that’s why I don’t like him for the win. He will be facing rival Beethoven, who beat him by a half length last year in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes; in his last start, the Holy Bull, Beethoven finished fourth behind the flashy Saratoga Sinner (who’s off the Derby trail with an injury). Previous to the Bull, Beethoven had won his prior three starts, so watch for his return to form.

I’ve got a feeling some wildcards are going to show up in this race; Taqarub is a fascinating New York shipper who is unbeaten in his 3 lifetime starts and could make an impact in his first try at graded stakes company. There’s also Theregoesjojo and Notonthesamepage, two lightly-raced horses who look to be on the improve and are coming off impressive wins in ungraded races.

And over in California, the Sham Stakes is heralding the return of The Pamplemousse, the front-running winner of the San Rafael. Love his name or hate it, The Pamplemousse has proven to be one of the most exciting West Coast three-year-olds, alongside Stardom Bound and Pioneerof the Nile. His main competitor may come in the form of the Todd Pletcher-trained Take the Points, who is coming off an impressive allowance win over the dirt at Gulfstream. Take the Points will be running on synthetic for the first time in the Sham, but Pletcher thinks he should handle the new surface aptly since his pedigree agrees with grass. But genes don’t necessarily prove a thing, as Take the Points has never actually run on the grass before. You might remember the same sort of story about Mambo in Seattle who was supposed to have “mud all over” his genes, and ended up flopping in the Jockey Club Gold Cup slop. Having proven himself to be a fighter, Take the Points will demand respect if he ends up winning the Sham.

While the rest of the field lacks big names, some promise may lie in Smart Bid, Balfour Park, and Mr. Hot Stuff, who finally broke his maiden on his third try going at a mile. And if you’re looking to make some money, there’s Bourbon Bay, who’s just been shy of a win in his past three starts, but has been in the money each time.

Of the three-year-old prep races this weekend, the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Sham Stakes are the most prestigious. There are two other races of note this Saturday, though neither of them are graded; Turfway Park is hosting the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, a local prep for the Lane’s End Stakes, and Sunland Park in New Mexico is showcasing the $100,000 Borderland Derby. Because you just never know where the next Kentucky Derby winner is going to come from, you’d do best not to miss a single one.


Saturday 3-year-old Stakes Races:

The Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes will be broadcast live from Gulfstream Park on HRTV. Post time is slated for 5:14pm ET.

The John Battaglia Memorial Stakes airs live from Turfway Park on TVG. Estimated post time is 5:45pm ET.

The Grade III Sham Stakes will be broadcast live from Santa Anita on HRTV. Post time is approximately 4:38pm PT.

The Borderland Derby airs live from Sunland Park on TVG. Estimated post time is 4:55pm MT.

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