With early Triple Crown nominations in the books, Calder-based horsemen are preparing their nominees to take the next steps on the road to the Triple Crown with the hopes of winning one, if not all of the prestigious races.
For the second year in a row, horses must earn enough points based on finishing first, second, third, or fourth in designated Kentucky Derby prep races that offer points as a reward in order to make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate, with the tiebreaker being earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
Casiguapo, trained by Mario Morales, is the only horse based at Calder who has already accumulated points for the Derby. He currently ranks 16th on the Kentucky Derby points standings with five points and has $271,050 in earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
"I believe he is a good horse, as good as the others," Morales said. "He is a strong, nice-looking horse and he does everything right. He is very intelligent."
Morales said that Casiguapo's next start will be in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on February 22, which offers up to 50 points.
"The Fountain of Youth tells the truth," Morales said. "After this race he'll continue his normal training and from there we'll see where he will run, but we have to run this race first to see how he runs and where he finishes."
Casiguapo has been on the road to the Kentucky Derby from the start. He started his career with a third-place finish in a stakes before breaking his maiden, both races occurring at Calder. He came second in the Hopeful at Saratoga before earning his first point for the Derby with a fourth-place finish in the one-mile Champagne at Belmont Park. He closed out his two-year-old season with a second-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Delta Downs Jackpot, earning four points.
In his three-year-old debut, Casiguapo raced in a six-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park on February 2 and finished fifth. Morales writes the race off.
"The last race you don't have to count," he said. "We put blinkers on him and he was too nervous with the blinkers. He needed that race."
Morales said that Casiguapo will be without blinkers for the Fountain of Youth.
Two more Calder-based horses that are preparing to run in the Fountain of Youth are the Stanley Gold-trained pair of C. Zee and Best Plan Yet.
"Hopes and dreams," said Gold regarding their nominations. "If you don't do the early nomination and you decide you have a horse good enough, it costs a lot of money to nominate late."
Early nominations for the Triple Crown, which were due by January 25, cost $600 per horse to nominate, while the price for late nominations is $6,000 and can be made through March 22. Horses that are not nominated early or late can still be made eligible with a supplemental nomination fee that tops at $200,000.
The Fountain of Youth will be C. Zee's first time going around two turns. C. Zee made his career debut at Calder as a two-year-old where he was disqualified from second to third and then broke his maiden at Gulfstream three months later. He kicked off his three-year-old season with a second-place finish in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream on January 4. He became graded stakes-placed one start ago in the seven-furlong Hutcheson on February 1, where he again finished second.
Gold said that he is hopeful for C. Zee's two-turn debut.
"The father only ran twice -- both times with two turns and he won them both from off the pace," said Gold of C. Zee's sire, Elusive Bluff. "They were both on the turf, but he was a distance horse, the mare was also a distance horse. He rates, he does what you want but he has speed so there's no question in my mind he'll go long. I just have to get him ready to go long for his next race."
Best Plan Yet already has a lot of two-turn experience gained while running his entire two-year-old season at Calder, mostly in stakes. After finishing fourth in his career debut in the stakes where Casiguapo ran third, Best Plan Yet came second in the first leg of the Florida Stallion Stakes series. He then broke his maiden before finishing second in the second leg of the series. He was immediately successful going two turns, winning the 1 mile-70 yard Foolish Pleasure and the final leg of the series at 1 1/16-miles back-to-back.
He finished ninth in his three-year-old debut in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1 and most recently ran fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull on January 25 in his return to the two-turn distance.
"He's getting noticeably more focused, noticeably more aggressive, and he's doing good," Gold said. "He didn't run that bad the last time. He only got beat by 1 1/2 lengths for second; he could have easily been second. He didn't have the best trip and he had to steady in the turn and then he had to steady again and he still kept trying. I'm happy with him."
Gold said that while both horses may run in the Fountain of Youth, the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby on March 8 is a possibility if they do not go in the Fountain of Youth together.
Also set to run in the Fountain of Youth is Tashir, trained by Gennadi Dorochenko.
"Everybody dreams of a Triple Crown horse, but I know one thing; this horse has a lot of potential," Dorochenko said.
Tashir first broke his maiden at Delaware Park before fourth and third-place finishes in stakes at Delaware. He then finished second and sixth in allowance races at Keeneland. Tashir made his three-year-old debut at Calder, capturing a seven-furlong allowance race on January 17 by 9 1/2 lengths. He made his first graded stakes appearance in the Hutcheson and finished sixth.
"He had a bad trip, muddy track, everything," Dorochenko said. "His father (Afleet Alex) had a bad trip, he lost the Kentucky Derby then won both the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. He was the one horse who was starting to pick it up. This was a little bit too short, too fast. Seven furlongs is a very tough distance."