HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — James Jerkens offered a blunt explanation why he never nominated Quality Road for the upcoming Triple Crown series.
"I forgot," Jerkens said.
It'll amount to a $6,000 oversight, but after the way Quality Road ran Saturday, the trainer won't mind writing that check.
Quality Road took off at the top of the stretch and won the Grade II, $250,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park — announcing himself as a surprise Kentucky Derby contender.
Jockey John Velazquez asked Quality Road to find that top gear as they made the turn, and the colt responded, then pulled away to beat Theregoesjojo by 4¼ lengths.
"There were some very, very promising horses in this race," Velazquez said. "And he was good. He handled the pressure the whole way."
Quality Road broke his maiden at Aqueduct in November and raced only once since, explaining why he wasn't exactly touted as a Derby hopeful.
"Every work has been better than the previous one," said Jerkens, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. "And he lived up to those works."
Beethoven was third, four lengths farther back. Favored Capt. Candyman Can was fourth, and morning-line favorite This Ones for Phil set a quick early pace before fading to fifth.
"I thought he ran a great race and lost to a very good horse," said Ken McPeek, who trains Theregoesjojo. "And believe me, the horse that won is one very impressive horse."
This Ones for Phil started on the extreme outside, which trainer Rick Dutrow said would allow him and jockey Edgar Prado to decide when they wanted to make their move.
Apparently, that was right out of the chute.
Prado moved his mount right to the rail and the half-mile was in 45.5 seconds. This Ones for Phil seemed to labor a bit, while eventually yielding after Velazquez steered Quality Road — who had stayed about a half-length on the outside of the leader — to the front.
That, Velazquez said, was only half the battle.
"He started kind of looking in front, not knowing what to do," Velazquez said. "He's a young horse, so I had to keep his mind running. And he did it very well."
Jerkens is New York-based, which means he could point Quality Road to the Wood Memorial as his next stop. He also hasn't ruled out the Florida Derby, at Gulfstream in a month.
"I'm a New York guy, I come from New York, the rest of my stable is there," Jerkens said. "But the weather back home in the spring is so tricky with track conditions and stuff. At least here, you've got a uniform, consistent track. That's a big thing when you're getting ready for big races. You don't want to miss any works if you can help it."