HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Good Magic is the reigning juvenile champion and likely odds-on favorite in Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. He Takes Charge has won just once in five career starts and will go postward among the longest-priced members of the field.
But the two horses will have one thing in common when they square off in the important Kentucky Derby prep and final major local tune-up for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31: both are coming off a maiden win.
A field of 10 3-year-olds, led by Good Magic, was drawn on Wednesday for the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth. The remainder of the lineup is Free Drop Billy (Robby Albarado to ride); Gotta Go (Chris Landeros); Machismo (Albin Jiminez); Marconi (Javier Castellano); Peppered (Nik Juarez); Promises Fulfilled (Irad Ortiz Jr.); Storm Runner (Joel Rosario); and Strike Power (Luis Saez).
Good Magic was still a maiden when he rallied to a 4 1/4-length triumph in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and has trained brilliantly in preparation for his 3-year-old debut. He'll be ridden once again Saturday by Jose Ortiz.
He Takes Charge, who'll have his regular jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard, needed five starts to finally escape the maiden ranks, winning by 2 1/4 lengths here on Feb. 10. Trainer Mark Casse believes the margin could have been much greater had his horse not gotten to loafing at the end.
"He's one of those horses who never does anything right, but like all the Tapits I've had, should get better with racing," said Casse. "And the further he goes the better. I thought his last race was extremely good considering he threw a fit coming over to the paddock, in the paddock, and again in the post parade. Then he ran into traffic early and, at least in my humble opinion, pulled himself up after making the lead or he might have won by 10 lengths."
Casse is hoping to find out Saturday if He Takes Charge classes up with the other Kentucky Derby hopefuls, and he's convinced that the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby is in the colt's wheelhouse.
"This race is probably still a little too short for him, but down the road they get further, if you know what I mean, and it looks like we can get two shots to get Derby points, starting here," said Casse. "And if he ever happens to do everything right, who knows?"
Peppered is also eligible for his entry-level allowance condition, but has been pointed to the Fountain of Youth by trainer Reade Baker since his eventful 12th-place finish in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.
"The race at Churchill was really a non-race for him, after a rider fell off and he got pushed out badly in all the traffic into the first turn," said Baker. "We've always been high on him, and while obviously this isn't the easiest spot, his maiden win was big, and he's really had excuses for all his losses up to this point."