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HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 27, 2024 — Timberlake came to play and demonstrated perfect pitch by taking his 3-year-old debut in dominant fashion in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes FEB 24 at Oaklawn Park.

He won, earning 50 qualifying points, when added to what he already had accumulated, guarantees him a slip in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. And there likely are more where that came from …

No doubt Timberlake’s a serious horse, as was Sierra Leone the previous Saturday in New Orleans, scoring impressively in the 50-point Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds.

Detect a trend?  If not, just know that all things Derby are getting serious. which invariably brings us to Gulfstream’s first 50-point prep, the G2 Fountain of Youth on Saturday. More on that to come this week.

In NTRA polling, the Risen Star elevated Sierra Leone into second place behind what may be the nation’s best 3-year-old, but Derby-ineligible, Nysos. The Rebel vaulted Timberlake into #3.

What will happen should Locked or Dornoch win the Fountain of Youth is anyone’s guess. Depending on the manner of victory or otherwise promising performance, like the Risen Star and Rebel winners, these two bring excellent juvenile credentials to Saturday’s dance.

Yes, it’s only the first weekend in March, followed by the Tampa Derby on March 9. And, lest we forget, there are two other 50-pointers on tap this weekend: Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes and Santa Anita’s San Felipe. Turfway Park’s 20-point John Battaglia Memorial also goes on Saturday.

Showing a new dimension in his first start at 3, Timberlake took a position behind the early speed, fifth, sitting of a solid 23.20 and 47.67 pace for the first half-mile.

Timberlake made his run at the final turn, wresting command at headstretch before drawing out with authority beneath patient and clever handling from rising star Christian Torres, stopping the timer in 1:44.00 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast dry track.

“He’s a classy horse … It’s a dream to win these kind of races for these kind of people [trainer Brad Cox, owner Winstar Farm], a dream come true,” said Torres post-race.

And he might have not been wound tightly, and that makes it a good pre going forward.

“I thought he ran a big race,” said Cox.  “He was a little wide around the far turn and looked like he may have been getting tired late, but it was a great run off the layoff …

“Cristian did a great job of getting him in a good spot, able to get him to relax and finish up well.”

Of course, the Tote Busters© Saturday Analysis will look at the other major preps this weekend, along with some graded selected stakes from Gulfstream’s power-laden card, plus a take on last Saturday’s Saudi Cup.


1        NYSOS (29)        3-C   1-1-0-0       325   1

2        SIERRA LEONE (3)      3-C   1-1-0-0       281   2

3        TIMBERLAKE (1)          3-C   1-1-0-0       228   11

4        TRACK PHANTOM      3-C   2-1-1-0       151   3

5        MUTH        3-C   1-1-0-0       144   4

6        FIERCENESS     3-C   1-0-0-1       115   5

7        HADES      3-G   1-1-0-0       114   6

8        LOCKED   3-C   0-0-0-0      103   7

9        MYSTIK DAN      3-C   2-1-0-0       93     8

10     DORNOCH        3-C   0-0-0-0      90     9

Tote Busters Analysis

Haven’t seen the Gotham data yet, so we’ll look at the Fountain of Youth presently. With Derby-ineligible Bob Baffert being the major force at Santa Anita — a weather cancellation as of midday Thursday — the Gulfstream Grade 2 is the day’s top prep as it showcases the return if two significant 2023 juveniles.

Danny Gargan is warning everyone within earshot that he is not in rush mode with Dornoch, who is using this race as a bridge to the next bridge, hoping his colt will peak on May’s first Saturday in Louisville.

And I’m warning the HRI Faithful this does not mean he can’t win. Dornoch is a talented speedster with stamina to spare. He simply might will his way to victory.

Todd Pletcher is getting the Grade 1 winner and BC Juvenile third Locked ready for battle, giving him only six weeks to recharge his BC batteries before posting nine published works. He will be fit, sharpness is a game time decision. With lots of speed signed on with an outside draw, he could get a dream setup.

Further, Pletcher has impressive 7-furlong debut winner Speak Easy (7-2), owner of both high speed, appropriate pedigree and inherently class, and the maiden he vanquished, Victory Avenue, returns in the Grade 2 for Mage’s people, meaning they know from the Derby.

Speak Easy and Merit are cross-entered in a tough preliminary allowances on Friday.

Victory Avenue works brilliantly and today’s trip — two turns notwithstanding — will not be a problem. It’s the classy competition and, like Speak Easy, more experienced rivals who figure to make an significant impact in this short-stretch mile and a sixteenth.


PROJECTED WINNER: The classy and accomplished 8-Locked (5-2) has been training purposefully for sophomore debut and his style suits the speedy race shape perfectly.

BEST VALUE: 1-Speak Easy (9-2) made an impressive debut, showing speed and class beneath a very confident Irad Ortiz throughout, earning excellent Thoro Graph performance figure, is pole sitting and could trip out. Absolutely, but requires no lower than 3-1.

BEST PRICE SHOT: 4-Real Macho (8-1) lacks two-turn experience but handled two classy prospects, with both lifetime wins going a flat-mile on this surface. Tyler made the difference.

EXOTICA: 3-Victory Avenue:: Johnny a perfect match for this. 6-Merit: Coming up to third lifetime start the right way. 7-Frankie’s Empire: Made a very good transition from 2 to 3.


PROJECTED WINNER: 2-Steal Sunshine (5-2) didn’t get untracked until very late and was going best of all when third beaten 3/4s to Tumbarumba. Loves the trip [(8) 4-0-2] and Falcone has won with 10 of his last 30 LAY-3 runners.

PRICE SHOT: 6-Shaq Diesel (15-1), racing in career form with consistent, albeit slower, figures and is a Horse for Course (8) 3-1-0 and Distance (2-for-2).

EXOTICA: 4-Il Miracolo (9-2) back at his best trip [(4) 2-1-0] for hot Sano bar. 2-Wit (3-1) working very strongly for return. 5-Tumbarumba (8-5) game winner in GP bow.


PROJECTED WINNER: 3-Emmanuel (2-1) Pletcher chose this race for his return, a race he won last year, has trained strongly including his last four–three of the bullet, one of the near bullet variety. Another Winstar looking for a big day; Irad rides.

BEST VALUE: 2-Smokin T (6-1) partners with Johnny, aboard for his three most recent wins, has been getting legged up at Payson for Shug. Likes the trip (7) 2-1-2; well spotted ad posted.

EXOTICA: 6-Atone (5-2) 7YO gelding gets hits hard, getting class relief, but may need more distance. 5-Siege of Boston (8-1) late developing 5YO in top turf hands. 10-Ice Chocolate (8-1) has been competitive at a higher grade.


PROJECTED WINNER: 3-Be My Sunshine (9-2) is the now horse showing good development at 4, loves this course [(4) 3-1-0] and recent blowout 3rd fastest of 39 peers at the distance to work the week of FEB 24.

BEST VALUE: 4-Spansive (12-1) tough trip in return from lengthy absence, Todd a worthy 25% in LAY-2 scenarios and recent half-mile blowout 2nd fast3st of 24 peeps to work week if FEB 24.

EXOTICA: 7-For the Flag (8-1) speed of the speed, top return connections. 5-Walkathon (5-1) rates to benefit from recent Tampa stakes score. 6-Chili Flag (9-5) early line underlay.


PROJECTED WINNER: 2-Leslie’s Rose (8-5) I picked and supported every time Just FYI took the track in her juvenile year, securing the Juvenile Filly Eclipse title. But recency, a faster-on-figures rival, and visually impressive winner coming up the the added distance the right way is the most probable winner.

BEST VALUE: 3-Just F Y I (7-5) We believe the champion will be second favorite ante post for reasons stated above. Normally, even if this a seasonal debut, we almost knee-jerked here, believing that Mott would like to keep her unbeaten for a longtime and loyal client. She is the only ‘A’ danger.

EXOTICA: 4-Fiona ‘s Magic (8-1) low profile but talented, experienced. 8-Into Champagne (6-1) Stakes win at Tampa last out. 5-Whocouldaskformo (12-1) can’t ignore Team Shug/Jose.



PROJECTED WINNER: 10-Just A Touch (5-2) was bet as is debut win was a foregone conclusion and the colt confirmed the smart money, getting stronger as the wet-track race went on and under no pressure from Geroux at any point; trained brilliantly since and is well posted.

BEST VALUE: 3-Deterministic (9-2) was ultra impressive in debut juvenile score at the Spa; Clement more than capable with layups and legged up at reliable Payson Park, his most recent third fastest of 17 peers to go the distance the week of FEB 24. Demand 3-1 or greater.

EXOTICA: 12-Slider (8-1) good third to Muth at SA last out; recent work fastest of 116 peers to work week of FEB 25. 8-Bergen (9-2) stablemate of ‘Touch’ moved up in third start for Cox, winning over surface. 13-Capital Idea (12-1) improved big time in second start, both going a flat mile here. 9-Eliminate (15-1) was sharp off the bench for Todd, 24% of maiden wins and 25% in LAY-2 spots.

when more than one horse is listed in a category, preferences listed in order, left to right

this is a live column that will be updated throughout the week

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2 Responses

  1. Batman’s Gotham numbers: Lightline, Deterministic, Bergen followed by Capitol Idea, Just a touch, Maximus Meridius.

  2. Not sure the Cox favorite enjoyed the going and Deterministic proved himself off the bench for Clement/Rosario Team. Good job all around. More on this and more later …

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