HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Mohaymen has progressed with every start, displaying sharp speed to win sprinting in his debut and progressing through three subsequent stakes races, the last two around two turns, including a victory here at Gulfstream Park last time out in the Holy Bull.
He has established himself as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but to retain that position, he will need to step up his game yet again Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (Watch Saturday's card live) at Gulfstream Park, a race his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, believes will be his biggest challenge yet.
"There are some quality horses in the race," McLaughlin said. "This is his toughest test so far, to me."
Mohaymen won the 1-1/8-mile Remsen at Aqueduct in November and dominated his rivals in the Holy Bull, which, like the Fountain of Youth, is at 1-1/16 miles. He moved quickly during the third quarter-mile of that race to wrest control, then powered clear through the lane to win by 3-1/2 lengths.
"I thought he'd be on the lead in that race because there was no pace, but he didn't break real sharp," McLaughlin said. "But when you've got a lot of horse, you can get out of those spots. It was an impressive win. In the Remsen, he sat and took dirt. Saturday, he'll have some quality speed in front of him."
The Fountain of Youth drew just six runners, including Zulu and Awesome Banner, who, like Mohaymen, have yet to lose.
Stanley Gold, who trains Awesome Banner as well as Fountain of Youth entrant Fellowship, said on Wednesday he was pondering rerouting Awesome Banner to the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12. Awesome Banner has won all three of his starts, all at Gulfstream.
The Fountain of Youth is worth 85 points overall under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. With 50 points going to the winner, it essentially is a Win and You're In race.
The Fountain of Youth goes as race 12 on a 13-race card that has eight stakes, six of them graded. First post is noon Eastern.
Among the highlights of the undercard are the 2016 debut of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Catch a Glimpse in the Grade 3, $150,000 Herecomesthebride (race 6) and top Kentucky Oaks candidate Cathryn Sophia in the Grade 2, $200,000 Davona Dale (race 5).
The weather forecast is ideal, with a high temperature of just 72 and no chance of rain.
Mohaymen, by Tapit
Last 3 Beyers: 95-95-89
He seems best with a stalking trip, and he should get that here, with the likes of Awesome Banner, Awesome Speed, and Zulu preferring to be on or near the lead.
With his outside draw in a small field, jockey Junior Alvarado should be able to keep him in the clear.
If the pace is slower than expected, Mohaymen has proven that he can adjust. In the Holy Bull, after an opening half in 49.06 seconds, Mohaymen threw consecutive quarters of 23.46 seconds and 23.52 at his rivals. No one could keep up with that 46.98 half-mile. That instant acceleration may be his best weapon.
Zulu, by Bernardini
He arrived with lofty expectations and has done nothing wrong in two starts, but this is a big jump. He is trying two turns for the first time, is racing in a stakes for the first time, and is being thrown into the deep end of the pool, having to face the likes of Mohaymen.
Awesome Speed, Zulu, by Awesome Again
Last 3 Beyers: 87-87-72
He comes into the race riding a three-race win streak, most recently winning the Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 2, but this will be his first try in a graded stakes and his first time around two turns.
Irad Ortiz Jr. picked up the mount because Joel Rosario, who rode Awesome Speed in the Mucho Macho Man, broke his wrist in an accident at Gulfstream last weekend.
Awesome Banner, by Awesome of Course
He has shown that he can handle a quick pace and draw away, based on his victories in the Hutcheson and Swale earlier at this meet, but this will be his first try around two turns.
Whether he goes here or in the Tampa Bay Derby, "he's not backing up to a sprint," Gold said.
Fellowship, by Awesome of Course
Last 3 Beyers: 85-60-73
His third-place finish in the Holy Bull was by far his best race, and he had to rally into a soft pace. This race should unfold at a much quicker pace.
He is the most-experienced horse in the race, with nine starts, and both of his victories were at Gulfstream.