By: Rob Longley for Woodbine.com
TORONTO, March 2, 2019 – From maiden winner to Kentucky Derby contender all in an afternoon’s work.
That’s what three-year-old colt Hidden Scroll did at Gulfstream Park back in January, with a a resounding 14-length winner in his electrifying first career start.
The reaction was jaw-dropping and swift for the colt’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and owner Juddmonte Farm.
Those hunting for horses on their way to the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs rubbed their eyes and watched the replay again to confirm it was real. And real it was, which created somewhat of a dilemma for the deliberate Mott.
The veteran trainer, who historically eases young horses into action and is rarely linked to the first two races of the Triple Crown, suddenly was the focus of attention as the conditioner of a potential serious contender.
And now Hidden Scroll gets the opportunity to follow up that stellar effort as the betting favourite in his stakes debut, Saturday’s Fountain of Youth Stakes back at Gulfstream.
“It was a surprise he won as easily as he did, but I think we were excited and high on him going into the race,” Mott told the Louisville Courier-Journal, suggesting that there was at least a sniff of Derby fever in the barn before that maiden win. “I don’t think it was any surprise to us that he won, but the way he won in the fashion that he won was a bit of a surprise and awesome, to put it mildly.”
Of course there were immediately skeptics regarding the conditions (muddy), the competition (modest) and the pace (uncontested lead). But both the time and the manner in which Hidden Scroll won were too good to be dismissed.
So for now, anyway, he’s undefeated and given the connections and the fact he’s by 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun has Mott enthused to see what comes next. To a point.
The trainer still has that conservative approach and he’s not about to abandon it if Hidden Scroll regressed in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain Of Youth. Win impressively and it will all systems go for the Derby. Regress noticeably and Mott will likely look elsewhere.
“It’s that time of year and I think he’s doing well enough we’re going to give him this one shot and see where it takes us,” Mott told the Miami Herald. “I would say if the result is not good, then we probably take two steps back and give him a normal schedule.”
YOUTH IS SERVED
Hidden Scroll is listed as the 9-5 favourite in the 11-horse field of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, a race that has historically been a significant early Kentucky Derby prep.
Trainer George Weaver’s Vekoma is the 7-2 second choice followed by Kenny McPeek’s Signalman at 9-2 in the $400,000 U.S. race.
A Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, the race offers a total of 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5). The Fountain of Youth is also this week’s lone North American prep race.
Business picks up noticeably next weekend with the Gotham in New York, the San Felipe in California and the Tampa Bay Derby in Florida.
Thanks to 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, at least Hidden Scroll no longer has to battle one of the longest negative trends in the sporting world.
As an unraced two-year-old, it’s always a tall task to make it to and be competitive in the Triple Crown. Prior to Justify’s brilliant run last year, no horse had won the Derby without a two-year-old start in the previous 136 years.
More and more trainers are developing horses at a slower pace in their freshman year and tightening the screws early at three. Still, it would be quite the development if Hidden Scroll could match Justify’s accomplishment so soon.
DERBY TOP FIVE
With no prep races last week, there are no changes to our roster although two in our group will have something to say about this list in the Fountain of Youth.
1. Game Winner, trainer Bob Baffert
Baffert cranked up the morning efforts of his two-year-old champ as his scheduled debut in the March 9 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita is now just a week and change away.
2. War of Will, trainer Mark Casse
Casse’s big, powerful colt will stay near the top as he continues training following his big win in the Risen Star. He now leads all three-year-olds in Derby points, has won three straight on the dirt.
3. Improbable, trainer Bob Baffert
Baffert has hinted that this undefeated colt will also show up in the San Felipe though it isn’t set in stone. In the past, the California trainer has tried to separate his top contenders to maximize the pursuit of Derby points and purse earnings.
4. Hidden Scroll, trainer Bill Mott
The one-race wonder makes his second career start and stakes debut as the morning line favourite in the Fountain of Youth. Let’s see what he’s got.
5. Signalman, trainer Kenny McPeek
Never worse than third in five career starts – including a third behind Game Winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – he still has something to prove to us. He’ll get the chance on Saturday.
Follow Rob Longley’s weekly column on Woodbine.com chronicling the path to the Kentucky Derby, set for Saturday, May 4 at Churchill Downs. Be sure to join us in celebrating the first jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown at Woodbine’s annual exclusive Derby Day Party featuring fabulous food, fashion and entertainment.