Dale Romans was puzzled. Nothing he trained Dennis’ Moment for at Saturday’s Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park was supposed to play out like this. And unlike past mishaps, Dennis’ Moment’s start was good, his tactics were fine, and jockey Flavien Prat was turning in his usual solid, intelligent ride.

Dennis' Moment in Iroquois Stakes
Dennis’ Moment went off as the 6/5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth, but a disappointing last-place finish has his camp puzzled. (Image: Holly M. Smith)

And yet, it was another disappointing performance for Romans and Dennis’ Moment. Making his 3-year-old debut as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Kentucky Derby prep race, Dennis’ Moment got a clean start and nothing else. He never threatened and, basically, shut it down halfway through the race, finishing last.

“He bobbled out of the gate, but then after that, he regrouped and I thought I was in a good spot,” Prat told Gulfstream Park. “When I hit the five-eighths pole, he just dropped the bit and after that, I was done. After that, there was no reason to beat him up. He didn’t want to go.”

Figuring there was an undetected injury to explain the unexpected result, Romans got Dennis’ Moment back to the barn for inspection. He later tweeted out “He looks good at the barn. No injuries.”

Kentucky Derby Backpedaling

This puts the April 4 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland as the likely next — and last — Derby prep chance for Dennis’ Moment to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. To do that, he’ll have to regain the form that led to victories at an Ellis Park allowance (by 19½ lengths) and the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes last fall.

And it’s back to the training board for Romans, who said he “was concerned” when Dennis’ Moment didn’t get the early lead. Instead, Ete Indien, the 3/1 second choice, seized the moment. He romped to an 8 ½-length victory behind a perfect trip from Florent Geroux, who got Ete Indien out fast and in front from his outside post.

The 50 Derby Qualifying Points he earned have secured Ete Indien a berth in the Kentucky Derby. But trainer Patrick Biancone said he’s not guaranteed to be in the Churchill Downs starting gate. His next race will be the March 28 Florida Derby.

“He will have one more run before the Derby and if he wins next time, we’ll go to the Derby. And if he doesn’t win next time, he will stay home,” Biancone told Gulfstream Park.

Jockeying for Position

As for Prat, he was pinch-riding for Dennis’ Moment’s normal jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., who was in Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Cup. But one standout jockey filling in for another doesn’t mean Prat will be without Derby irons.

Prat’s the regular rider for Triple Crown contenders Thousand Words and Storm the Court. He’ll ride the Bob Baffert-trained Thousand Words for Saturday’s Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The San Felipe, which offers 50-20-15-5 Derby Qualifying points to the top four finishers, is the regular prep race for the April 4 Santa Anita Derby.

Meanwhile, his agent, Derek Lawson, is keeping all options open. Prat’s skill and form, however, ensure he’ll have a ride for the May 2 Derby, and a chance to win the Run for the Roses in consecutive years. Prat was aboard 65/1 Country House last year.

“We’re going to wait and see what Thousand Words does Saturday in the San Felipe and Storm the Court, if he goes there, or in the Rebel,” Lawson told Santa Anita’s Ed Golden. “We’re just riding races right now trying to get to the promised land of Churchill Downs.”