Emmanuel is on many Kentucky Derby watch lists as one of the colts to watch in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Horseplayers watched him win his first two starts by a combined 11 ¼ lengths. They watched him get bet down to 18/1 in Circa Sports’ Derby futures and 16/1 at Caesars-William Hill.

Emmanuel-Fountain of Youth
Emmanuel won this December debut by daylight. He makes his anticipated stakes debut in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. (Image: Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson)

Now, can they watch him win a Derby prep in his first stakes race?

Emmanuel is the 3/1 second choice to claim the 1 1/16-mile trek around Gulfstream Park, one of four Saturday Derby preps sprinkled around the country. The 76th edition of the Fountain of Youth offers 50-20-10-5 Derby points to its top four finishers. It’s also part of the Coast to Coast All Dirt Stakes Pick 5, a Gulfstream promotion with California sister track Santa Anita Park.

This is a race with some Triple Crown heft. Past Fountain of Youth winners include Orb (2013), Union Rags (2012), Thunder Gulch (1995), Spectacular Bid (1979), Kauai King (1966) and Tim Tam (1958). Every one of the aforementioned won at least one Triple Crown race.

Emmanuel a tough customer on the lead

This year’s edition has some star power of its own, starting with Emmanuel. The More than Ready colt illustrated why he’s on the front page of Derby future bets, winning his Dec. 11 debut in front-running fashion. That 6 ¾-length romp in a mile maiden special weight set the table for his 4 ½-length, gate-to-wire score in a 1 1/16-mile allowance Jan. 30 at Tampa Bay Downs.

That leads into the Todd Pletcher factor. The third of Pletcher’s three Fountain of Youth winners was Itsaknockout, who won the 2015 edition in his third career start. Move to 2017 and Pletcher used the Gulfstream-Tampa Bay Downs path to send Always Dreaming to that year’s Derby win.

“He broke his maiden here. We know he likes the track,” Pletcher told Gulfstream Park. “We like the timing of the Fountain of Youth. It puts him in a good position, if he runs well enough, to take a look at the Florida Derby.”

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but that’s a race Pletcher won six times.

Pletcher had a strong hand in the Fountain of Youth

Earlier in the week, the Fountain of Youth looked to be a battle between Pletcher stablemates Emmanuel and Mo Donegal. But the trainer scratched Mo Donegal after he came down with a low-grade fever. Pletcher said he’ll send Mo Donegal, instead, to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

There’s plenty of competition awaiting, however, starting with the race favorite: Simplification (5/2). He comes in off a runner-up finish in the Holy Bull that featured an awful break from the gate. Yet he closed ranks at every call, eventually falling short of White Abarrio by 4 ½ lengths.

Simplification’s four-length victory in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes New Year’s Day came gate-to-wire by four lengths. His victory in an October maiden special weight came off the pace after another bad start.

Favorites aren’t favored here lately

“The bad news in his last race, he didn’t win. The good news, we know he can run from behind and run in the front,” trainer Antonio Sano said.

Further bad news for Simplification. The favorite hasn’t won the Fountain of Youth since Mohaymen in 2016.

Behind Simplification in the Holy Bull, you had Galt (fourth) and Giant Game (eighth). Both are in the Fountain of Youth field, although better options exist. Options such as In Due Time (6/1), who blitzed his rivals by nearly six lengths in an allowance optional claimer and could take another step forward here.

Grade 2 Fountain of Youth/Gulfstream Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Markhamian, 20/1 (Marcos Meneses/Juan Carlos Avila)
  2. Simplification, 5/2 (Jose Ortiz/Antonio Sano)
  3. Howling Time, 15/1 (Joe Talamo/Dale Romans)
  4. In Due Time, 6/1 (Paco Lopez/Kelly Breen)
  5. Dean Delivers, 15/1 (Miguel Angel Vasquez/Michael Yates)
  6. Rattle N Roll, 8/1 (Brian Joseph Hernandez/Kenny McPeek)
  7. A.P.’s Secret, 15/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Saffie Joseph Jr.)
  8. Emmanuel, 3/1 (Luis Saez/Todd Pletcher)
  9. High Oak, 8/1 (Junior Alvarado/Bill Mott)
  10. Giant Game, 15/1 (Corey Lanerie/Dale Romans)
  11. O Captain, 30/1 (Javier Castellano/Gustavo Delgado)
  12. Mo Donegal, SCR
  13. Galt, 15/1 (Joel Rosario/Bill Mott)

Then, there’s the wild card: Rattle N Roll (8/1). The Kenny McPeek charge opens his 3-year-old campaign in his first race since winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last October. He missed the Breeders’ Cup with a foot injury and McPeek sat him for several earlier preps, feeling he wasn’t ready.

Rattle N Roll broke a minute for five furlongs in his last two workouts (59.65 Feb. 19 and 58.67 Feb. 26). But does he need a race to regroup before his form follows? If you think otherwise, he could be the biggest value on the board.