If you could pause the action near the quarter pole in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park to see the way Godolphin's Frosted was merely toying with horses like Upstart and Itsaknockout, both struggling to keep up several lengths behind, you might be convinced that a new major contender for the Kentucky Derby had emerged.
But as the race concluded, Frosted suddenly threw his head up in the air and pretty much lost his action, dramatically shortening stride. In the blink of an eye, his easy lead was gone. He would wind up finishing an ugly fourth, and it was back to the drawing board for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Well, Frosted is back once again April 4 in the $1 million TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack, trying to establish his reputation on the Derby trail and make racing fans forget the debacle of the Fountain of Youth.
So, why is it going to be any different this time?
"We felt like the track [for the Fountain of Youth] was really dry and deep and demanding on all horses," McLaughlin said. "We changed tracks, going to Aqueduct, a track we know he likes. We thought he could have pulled himself up after getting to the front, so we worked him behind two nice horses and he flew by them and didn't pull up.
"Also, he might not have gotten on with Irad [Ortiz], so Joel [Rosario] worked him and got on great with him. Finally, he might have displaced in the Fountain of Youth, so we did a Llewelyn [a common surgical procedure]. He is training fabulous and we corrected all question marks and feel he will run an A+ race. We are all-in."
Frosted is best remembered by New York racing fans for rallying in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and coming up a half-length short of catching Leave the Light On. In his 3-year-old debut he finished second to Upstart in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III). That's when McLaughlin put blinkers on for a work and noticed a big difference in the colt. Unfortunately, wearing blinkers in the Fountain of Youth failed to move him forward as Team McLaughlin had hoped. Now they get one final chance before the Derby, with all of the colt's issues apparently resolved.
Frosted will break from post 4 and for the first time will have Rosario in the irons.
Standing in Frosted's way with their own Derby dreams are the hard-knocking and versatile El Kabeir, Zayat Stables' winner of the Gotham Stakes and Jerome Stakes and runner-up in the Withers Stakes; last year's Champagne Stakes winner Daredevil, who returned with a second-place finish in the seven furlong Swale Stakes (in his 3-year-old debut; and Tiz Shea D, a solid second in the Gotham.
In all, seven horses were entered in the Wood -- sadly with the exception of Far From Over, the Withers winner who suffered a non-displaced condylar fracture in a workout last weekend and was scheduled to undergo surgery near Lexington later in the week.
His stablemate, Daredevil, has been made the morning line favorite, despite having had only one seven-furlong race this year, in which he was beaten 2-3/4 lengths by Ready For Rye in very fast-run race. The son of More Than Ready, who won the Champagne under wraps for the final sixteenth, drew post 6 and will be ridden by Javier Castellano for trainer Todd Pletcher.
With longshot Toasting Master, fourth in the Gotham, likely to set the pace, that leaves the Wood a jockey's race with Frosted, Daredevil, El Kabeir, and Tiz Shea D all watching each other, not far off the leader. This might be a good spot for El Kabeir to resort to his tactics from the Gotham when he took way back, a dozen lengths off the lead. But the old El Kabeir is as fast as any of these horses, so jockey C.C. Lopez, breaking from post 5, will have a decision to make. He probably doesn't want to see Daredevil or Frosted open a clear lead at any point.
El Kabeir is one of the most honest horses in training, who has won stakes in a number of different ways -- on the lead, just off the lead, and coming from far back, as he did in the Gotham.
Tiz Shea D is the unknown factor in the Wood. The son of Tiznow , trained by Bill Mott, has made only two career starts, coming off a maiden sprint at Parx Racing to finish a strong second in the Gotham, beaten 2-3/4 lengths at 11-1.
Rounding out the field are Lieutenant Colonel, 10th in the Gotham, and Tencendur, who ran a sneaky-good fifth in the Gotham and seems to be improving with each start for trainer George Weaver.