Violence seems to have everything going for him: a strong pedigree, the most successful trainer in racing, abundant talent and an obvious will to win no matter where he runs. The unbeaten colt is expected to be heavily favored when he makes his three-year-old debut in Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and is a leading prospect for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4.
The son of Medaglia d'Oro, who was purchased by Black Rock Thoroughbreds for $600,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale, won at first asking last August at Saratoga. Despite a tardy start and getting bumped in the stretch, Violence got up to win the seven-furlong race by a neck over next-out winner Titletown Five. Jumping directly to stakes company for his second start in November, he successfully stretched out to a mile with a two-length victory in the Grade 2 Nashua. It was his third start, though, that made Violence such an exciting Kentucky Derby prospect.
Flown cross-country to run in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity over the synthetic racing surface at Hollywood Park on December 15, Violence closed from mid-pack to score by 1 1/4 lengths in his first start around two turns.
"He handled it so well -- running on the different track, the synthetic track, and traveling from East Coast to West Coast," jockey Javier Castellano said. "He keeps better and better. He has a mature mind. He does things the right way."
A lot of new experiences faced Violence in the CashCall Futurity, but Pletcher was confident that the 1 1/16-mile stakes was the right fit for the Kentucky-bred colt.
"The main thing was the timing was good. We felt like the track at Hollywood Park, although it is a synthetic track, plays more like dirt than most of them. So we felt it was a little less risky than running on another synthetic track," Pletcher said. "It worked out well and he handled it great."
Violence has been training sharply for Pletcher at Palm Meadows in preparation for his 2013 debut.
"Violence is doing really well," said Pletcher, who is well on his way to clinching his 10th consecutive training title at Gulfstream. "We shipped him to Palm Meadows right after he won the CashCall Futurity. So far everything has gone according to plan and we've been focused on the Fountain of Youth as his first start back."
The Fountain of Youth has also been the goal for trainer Eddie Kenneally's Majestic Hussar, a promising son of Majestic Warrior who registered a front-running, 2 1/4-length triumph over the Pletcher-trained Palace Malice in a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on January 19.
"He's a fast horse. We'll be stretching him out for the first time in the Fountain of Youth," Kenneally said. "We don't really know how that's going to go yet. He's a very good sprinter. We don't know if he wants to go long or not, but we'll find out and learn a lot in the Fountain of Youth. He hasn't done anything like this yet and two turns is a totally different race. In sprints, he shows speed, so I'll assume he wants to show speed in a long race. I think that's going to be his running style, and I don't think we want to take that away from him."
While Majestic Hussar figures to be one of the top contenders in the Fountain of Youth, Pletcher doesn't think his presence will pose a problem for Violence, strategy-wise.
"He's very tractable," Pletcher explained. "He's been close to the pace when we've needed him to be and he settles when we've needed him to be. He's very versatile and we're going to play out the pace scenario and see how quick Majestic Hussar and anyone else is going. He's the kind of horse that won't let anyone sneak away to an easy lead and he's kind enough that he'll rate well also."
Pletcher has saddled two Fountain of Youth winners, Eskendereya in 2010 and Scat Daddy in 2007.
South California shipper He's Had Enough galloped over the Gulfstream Park racing surface Thursday morning in preparation for Fountain of Youth.
"He's settled in great, ate up and gets over the track well," said Jack Sisterson, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill. "Now, the horse and the staff have to get used to the humidity here."
He's Had Enough is owned by J. Paul Reddam, who visited the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner's circles last year with eventual three-year-old champion I'll Have Another.
Mario Gutierrez, who rode the O'Neill-trained I'll Have Another in his two Triple Crown successes, has been named to ride the son of Tapit.
"Team Reddam is moving forward," said Sisterson, a 28-year-old native of Durham, England, who attended the University of Louisville on a soccer scholarship and graduated with a degree in equine administration.
He's Had Enough has been somewhat inconsistent during his six-race career but has shown flashes of promise at times, including a debut victory at Del Mar last summer and a head second to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"He's just a horse mentally, if he puts his mind to it, can do whatever he wants. You notice the blinkers (he wears)," said Sisterson, who briefly worked for trainers Todd Pletcher and Eddie Kenneally before moving to the Southern California circuit four years ago. "He's a very playful soul. I think over time he'll grow out of that and become more focused. The blinkers help him stay more focused."
He's Had Enough has worn blinkers for his last four races, including an 11th-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, his second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a fifth-place finish in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park and a distant third in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
"Looking back at his Keeneland race, he got a bad trip and was stuck behind horses and had to check, as well as in the Breeders' Cup," said Sisterson, who has worked for O'Neill for two years. "He had to check behind Shanghai Bobby and he put in a good performance there. In the CashCall, did he like the surface? We haven't determined that, but we're not making any excuses for him. In the Bob Lewis, Flashback is a talented horse in a short field. We had to take him out of his game to put him up on the pace and use him a little more in the early stages of the race, but he came out of all his races sound and in good shape."
The Fountain of Youth, which offers 50 points to the winner in the Road to the Derby points standings that determines the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, offers a golden opportunity for He's Had Enough and his 10 rivals to earn a ticket to Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
"We expect a big performance from him Saturday," Sisterson said. "We know he has the talent. Obviously, it's tough shipping down here with the top trainers and three-year-olds that have been competing down here. But if we want to move forward with his future, he's got to be running in this and be competitive in the Fountain of Youth."
He's Had Enough was accompanied on the plane Tuesday and during training hours Thursday morning at Gulfstream by Lava Man, the retired O'Neill-trained gelding who earned more than $5 million after being claimed for $50,000 in 2004. Lava Man, a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf who captured three Hollywood Gold Cups, two Santa Anita Handicaps and a Pacific Classic, is scheduled to be the featured guest Saturday morning during "Breakfast at Gulfstream." Lava Man has adapted well to serving as a stable pony to the stars in the O'Neill stable, including I'll Have Another last season.
Eddie Plesa Jr. is preparing Grade 3 Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday for the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30, but the trainer will stay in the three-year-old stakes mix Saturday with Speak Logistics, who will enter the Fountain of Youth off a troubled fourth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on February 2.
"He certainly would have been closer. At the time he was getting ready to move to the lead, he got shut off and lost all his momentum," Plesa said of the troubled trip for the son of High Cotton. "He got beat four, 4 1/2 lengths for the whole thing. I'm not saying he would have won the race because it was his first race back off a layoff, but he would have been right there."
Speak Logistics finished second in his five-furlong debut last July before breaking his maiden around two turns at Monmouth by nearly six lengths in a front-running romp. The Florida-bred colt came right back to win the $300,000 In Reality at Calder with another dominating front-running performance. He concluded his 2012 campaign with a troubled seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.
"He's a horse that was able to have things his own way on the lead, not that he needs the lead, as his last race proved," Plesa said. "He found himself between horses getting bumped around going down the backstretch [in the Breeders' Cup]. That was a bad experience for him and reacted the way you'd expect to happen for the first time. He's a better horse because of it. He got beat 5 1/2 lengths by Shanghai Bobby. No question it had an effect on him."
Joel Rosario will ride Speak Logistics for the first time in the Fountain of Youth.