A 78-year-old Florida man stumbled into the Fountain of Youth last Saturday afternoon, and before the National Enquirer or Hard Copy plays fast and loose with the facts, you should know that Tom Heard Jr. did undergo an amazing transformation. A thoroughbred owner and trainer for more than 50 years, Heard turned into a kid again after his overlooked and underrated Built for Pleasure shocked the crowd at Gulfstream Park near Miami by winning the year's first important Kentucky Derby prep race, the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, at the whopping odds of 143-1.
Heard, whose main claim to fame is having had horses win races in every decade since the 1930s, was asked whether he hoped to run his colt in the Derby. "Well, of course!" he said. "But I've been in this business long enough to know that you shouldn't expect something until it happens."
Indeed, Built for Pleasure, who had never before won in stakes company, still has much to prove before Heard will book him on a flight to Louisville for the 122nd Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Yet because the nine-horse field for the Fountain of Youth Stakes included Unbridled's Song—the winter-book Derby favorite by virtue of his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October—and several other highly regarded Derby prospects, Built for Pleasure deserves considerably more respect than he received from the skeptical bettors at Gulfstream.
On Saturday the colt departed from his usual racing style. Instead of running on or near the lead, as he had in most of his nine previous races, Built for Pleasure dropped back into the pack and bided his time until the second turn in the 1[1/16]-mile race. Then, under jockey Gary Boulanger's strong urging, the bay son of Homebuilder, out of the undistinguished marc Little-bitapleasure, defied the genetics experts—"He really doesn't have that much pedigree," Heard admits—and galloped from off the pace to collar Unbridled's Song in the final 70 yards.
Four Fountain of Youth winners have gone on to take the Derby—including last year's winner, Thunder Gulch—so Built for Pleasure can't be taken lightly. Then again, Unbridled's Song, Victory Speech, Appealing Skier and Editor's Note all finished within two lengths of the winner, and their handlers have little reason to feel discouraged.
Of Saturday's also-rans, the most closely watched was Unbridled's Song. Last year the talented colt had so many minor maladies that he made only two starts before his win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Before that victory owner Ernie Paragallo flatly predicted that his thoroughbred would win the 1996 Triple Crown. So far this year, however, Unbridled's Song is 0 for 2, having been beaten by half a length by Appealing Skier on Feb. 4 in the Hutcheson. Paragallo will be eating crow unless his colt ends a longstanding jinx: No winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which had its first running in 1984, has won the Derby, never mind the Triple Crown.
"Considering it was his first race around two turns, I wasn't discouraged," said Unbridled's Song's trainer, Jim Ryerson, on Saturday after seeing his colt again finish second. "He's not an easy horse to handle, and he got into a little trouble going into the first turn, but he still settled enough to be right there at the end. If he improves off this, he's still the one to beat."
Equally undaunted was D. Wayne Lukas, who saddled up Victory Speech and Editor's Note. "There's still a lot of racing to go," said Lukas, who won last year's Derby on the way to becoming the first trainer to win the Triple Crown with different horses (Thunder Gulch in the Derby and the Belmont, Timber Country in the Preakness).
As usual, Lukas will be the mint sprig that stirs the julep at Churchill Downs. Besides Victory Speech and Editor's Note, his deep and talented stable includes three other prospects:
?Honour and Glory, the probable favorite in this Saturday's San Rafael at Santa Anita.