Trainer Barclay Tagg has been here before, on the road to the Triple Crown. Funny Cide was his horse then. Nobiz Like Showbiz is his horse now. And where Funny Cide created great celebrity in 2003 by earning victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Nobiz is getting every opportunity to experience the buzz before he even makes it to the first Saturday in May.
"If I could sit down and design a horse for the Derby, mentally and physically, and have every attribute this horse has ... " Tagg said. "It's just he's the perfect type that you could ever design to go into something like this - he just oozes class."
Today, Nobiz is scheduled to run in the Grade II, $350,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, where he will take on a number of credible challengers aiming to knock him from the top of the Derby prospects list.
The Fountain of Youth is one of three prep races for the Kentucky Derby scheduled for this weekend. The other two are the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park Park and the Hutcheson Stakes, also at Gulfstream Park.
It is the Fountain of Youth that will draw the most attention - as already shown by the decision of ESPNews to air the race live at 5:20 p.m. today. Nobiz is to be challenged by many top 3-year-olds, including Adore the Gold, Stormello, Scat Daddy and Drums of Thunder.
"I see [Nobiz] as the leader at this point," said trainer Michael Gorham, who plans to have Eclipse winner Edgar Prado on Adore the Gold. "[Nobiz] has done everything pretty professionally and I think he's on top of the poll right now."
But Gorham, naturally enough, also likes his horse. Adore the Gold began his career as a 2-year-old maiden claimer - which Gorham said was a safe entry given it would be unusual for anyone to claim an un-won maiden in a $50,000 claimer - before winning the Dover Stakes at Delaware Park and the H. Steward Mitchell Stakes at Laurel Park.
As a 3-year-old, he has won the Grade II Swale Stakes at Gulfstream.
"Adore the Gold is my best 3-year-old ever," Gorham said. "You can tell who the good horses are pretty quick. It has a lot to do with disposition and natural talent. I'm confident my horse will run well. He's answered every question we've had."
So has Nobiz, a son of Albert the Great, who has lost just once - to Scat Daddy in the Grade I Champagne Stakes.
"Michael Matz had reason to be confident with Barbaro last year," said Tagg, referring to last year's late Kentucky Derby winner. "He had one of the most fabulous horses anyone had seen in a long time and he had him in great position for the Triple Crown. I think my horse could be on that same level."
Perhaps so, but the trainers of the horses taking him on all seem to have hope.
"My horse seems to be improving with every start since we stretched him out," said trainer Bill Kaplan, whose Drums of Thunder finished second to Nobiz in the Holy Bull. "We were three or four wide in the Holy Bull, and that translates to a loss of four or five lengths, which was a lot further than we got beat by the winner that day."
In the Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis, Great Hunter, trained by Doug O'Neill, is the top choice, as the only stakes winner in the field.
O'Neill has been bringing Great Hunter along slowly after a seven-race 2-year-old season. This will be his first start at age 3.
"Fitnesswise he sure seems like we've got him pretty close to where we had him going into the Breeders' Cup," O'Neill said. "So he should be tough, and you know, again, we want to - as always, when you give a horse a breather - you want him to build and build and build as the year goes on, and that's what we're hoping to do."
Trainer Bob Baffert recently acquired Saint Paul, who has the same sire as 2006 Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint, and the Florida-bred could blossom here. And Sam P. and Boutrous, two horses who didn't fare well in their most recent respective outings in the Holy Bull and the California Derby, still might prove they have untapped ability.
Meanwhile, the Grade II Hutcheson appears to be anyone's ballgame.
Kaplan has three legitimate Derby prospects in his eight-horse barn: Drums of Thunder, Imawildandcrazyguy, who is to run next week in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, and Storm in May, who is entered in the Hutcheson. Storm won the Sunshine Millions Dash in January.
Storm in May will be surrounded at the start, breaking from gate No. 3. Among those he'll have to contend with are Forefathers, the runner-up in the Swale, Out of Gwedda, who hasn't run in six months, and Bold Start, who was not a serious factor against Nobiz in the Holy Bull, but will be competing in blinkers for the first time.