HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- When the year began, Quality Road was at or near the top of almost everybody's list of leading Kentucky Derby candidates. And he will be back there again when the new lists come out this week after registering an impressive 4 1/4-length victory over Theregoesjojo in Saturday's $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Quality Road gained instant attention following a maiden win worth a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in his only start at 2. But he dropped off the radar screen after finishing second behind Theregoesjojo in a seven-furlong allowance race here in early January and missing some training after contracting a cough shortly thereafter.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens had Quality Road fit and ready to go for the one-mile Fountain of Youth and jockey John Velazquez did the rest. Velazquez allowed Quality Road to settle just off the surprising pacesetter This Ones for Phil, who sizzled through fractions of 23.81 seconds and 45.55 for the opening quarter- and half-mile. Quality Road ($13) readily gained command from the tiring leader upon settling into the stretch, then steadily increased his advantage through the final furlong.
The victory gave Velazquez back-to-back stakes wins on the card. Thirty minutes earlier, Velazquez guided Twilight Meteor to a one-length triumph over Buddy's Humor in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf.
Theregoesjojo angled well wide while commencing his rally into the stretch and was easily second best, finishing four lengths in front of Beethoven. Capt. Candyman Can, the tepid 7-2 favorite in a wide-open field of 10 3-year-olds, saved ground while racing within easy striking distance but faded through the final quarter-mile to finish a well-beaten fourth.
This Ones for Phil, Bee Cee Cee, Notonthesamepage, Jack Spratt, Taqarub, and Break Water Edison rounded out the order of finish.
Quality Road, who is not nominated to the Triple Crown, completed the distance in 1:35.01 over a fast track.
"We always thought a lot of this horse but he lightened up a little when we got down here and I might have rushed him a little into his second start," said Jerkens, who lost an apparent victory in the 2006 Fountain of Youth after Corinthian was disqualified from first and placed third. "He ran a mediocre race by his standards that day, but he ran to his works today, that's for sure."
Jerkens said he was uncertain where Quality Road would run next but indicated the Florida Derby here on March 28 or the Wood at Aqueduct the following week were the two most likely options.
"I'm a New York guy, but the weather back home can be tricky in the spring and we've got a nice, consistent, uniform track to train on down here," Jerkens said, referring to the Palm Meadows training center where he's stabled this winter.
Breakthrough win by Twilight Meteor
Twilight Meteor, who suffered several frustrating defeats in graded races earlier in his career, finally earned a graded win with his victory in the $150,000 Canadian Turf.
Twilight Meteor ($14.40), a 5-year-old son of Smart Strike, was narrowly defeated in both the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup and Hawthorne Derby during the fall of his 3-year-old campaign, and fell just a length short of winning the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort following a furious stretch rally in his 2007 finale. He was also third in the Ft. Marcy during an abbreviated 2008 campaign.
Making just his second start since the Ft. Marcy last April, Twilight Meteor raced in perfect striking position Saturday just a couple of lengths off the pace of Buddy's Humor. Twilight Meteor engaged for command midway on the second turn, gained a short advantage turning for home, and held sway over Buddy's Humor. Buffalo Man rallied mildly to finish a head farther back in third. Just As Well finished seventh as the 7-2 favorite.
"He's a matured horse and in the best form of his career now," said trainer Todd Pletcher.
Pletcher indicated he may point Twilight Meteor to the Grade 1 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.