The Road to the Triple Crown heats up this weekend with prep raes in Florida and Louisiana. On Saturday
at Gulfstream Park, they will run two Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds -- the Fountain of Youth at a mile and a
sixteenth, and the Hutcheson at seven panels.
Since 1980, only one Fountain of Youth winner -- Thunder Gulch
(1995) -- has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, but don"t think for a moment that the Fountain is meaningless.
Since 1980, Pleasant Colony, Swale, Unbridled and Go For Gin all were beaten in the Fountain, yet went on to
win the Kentucky Derby.
Frisky Spider, widely touted for months in this space, will make his stakes debut for trainer Bob Durso in this
year"s renewal of the Fountain of Youth. The son of Frisk Me Now, who ran third in the 1997 Florida Derby, has
lived up to his billing in winning his three starts, but the water gets much deeper in the Fountain.
If Frisky Spider can handle the likes of Read the Footnotes, Second Of June and Silver Wagon in Saturday"s
race, this $7,500 Timonium Sales yearling can really be regarded as a major player on the Triple Crown trail. In
the meantime, let"s be happy that we"ve all made a score or two on this grand colt.
On Sunday, they will run the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, and a shipper from Oaklawn Park
(where this is being written) looks like the one to beat. His name is Mr. Jester, and he will be making his first start for
trainer Steve Wren since he won the $1 million Delta Jackpot on Dec. 5 at Delta Downs.
A matter of a few hours ago, Mr. Jester left Oaklawn Park for the 10-hour van ride to Fair Grounds, where he will be
favored Sunday in view of the defection of the unbeaten Tapit. Mr. Jester is the kind of horse you like much more
at 20-1 than at 2-1, but it will be interesting to see how he performs with richer company in the Risen Star, a race
which has produced some nice Triple Crown runners including the horse for which it is named.
Sentimentalists have to love Mr. Jester.
Mr. Jester was named for the high school principal of his breeder-owner Hayes Biggs, an Arkansas
businessman. Last summer, Mr. Biggs lost a long battle to cancer, and, a week later, Mr. Jester, flying his widow
Kaaren"s colors, won a Grade 3 at Turfway Park. When the colt later won the Delta Jackpot, he ended the year
as the second highest money-winner among the 2-year-olds. Only Action This Day, the Breeders" Cup Juvenile winner
and Eclipse champion, banked more.
In case you missed it, Action This Day made his 3-year-old debut last Sunday at Santa Anita, and made up 20
lengths to close for fourth in the Sham Stakes. The winner of that race, Master David, was impressive himself for
trainer Bob Frankel, and is headed for the Florida Derby.
SUPER SATURDAY FOR STEVE
Trainer Steve Asmussen enjopyed a record-breaking day last Saturday when he won 10 races (with four seconds)
from 16 starts at five different racetracks across the South. He won races for seven different owners, who hauled
home almost $300,000 in purse monies.
"I had won seven races in one day three times," Asmussen said, "but this is my biggest day ever. The credit goes
to my assistants, exercise riders and grooms."
Asmussen had three winners at Oaklawn Park, including Eternal Cup in the American Beauty Stakes; three at Sunland
Park; two at Delta Downs, and one each at Fair Grounds and Valid Purchase.
The big day gives Asmussen a nation-high 72 winners, and a commanding lead over runnerup Scott Lake, who has
saddled 30 winners. Asmussen won the national title in 2002, but lost a squeaker to Lake last year, 454-452.
Asmussen also tops the earnings standings to date this year with $1.2 million, with Frankel second with $1.2 million.
But Frankel is 1-9 to be on top by the end of February.
Speaking of Frankel, he obviously has brought Medaglia d"Oro back better than ever. The 5-year-old was amazing
beating some quality runners in the Donn, but there was some controversy that went mostly overlooked in the national
There is a history of bad blood between Eibar Coa and Jerry Bailey so it was no surprise when Coa, riding a 90-1
shot, tried to sandbag Bailey, on Medaglia d"Oro, on the first turn.
Leaving the backstretch, Bailey got his revenge, squeezing Coa as he was going to the lead. As that was
happening, Ramon Dominguez was impatiently trying to squeeze a full-of-run Bowman"s Band inside Coa. When Bailey
got Coa, the chain reaction caused Dominguez to check Bowman"s Band, costing that oine second money.
There was a joke of a stewards" inquiry last 15 seconds, and, of course, the numbers stood.
Keep an eye out for any more incidents between Bailey and Coa. And it will be interesting to see if Allen Jerkens rides
Also of note on the racing front is Azeri"c comeback.
The 2002 Horse of the Year, who recently was switched to the barn of one D. Wayne Lukas, had her first breeze for
Lukas last Sunday at Santa Anita, and went three-eighths in :35 2/5, the second fastest of 14 moves at the distance.
Lukas, who, at last look, was 0-44 at Santa Anita, may bring Azeri back to Oaklawn in search of a third straight Apple
Blossom victory. That race is scheduled for April 3, the same day as the Oaklawn Handicap.