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For many, the road to the roses starts now

From his demeanor in his stall to his style on the racetrack, Buddy's Saint's every move seems effortless.

"He does everything so easy," trainer Bruce Levine said from his Gulfstream Park barn Thursday. "He doesn't have any quirks, he's not the kind of horse who is tough to gallop. He's very kind and easy on himself and it makes him not a hard horse to train."

But as Levine will attest, the expectations that come with having an exceptional talent can inspire their own set of stressors.

Of the slew of Kentucky Derby hopefuls slated to go to post in this weekend's prep races, few will have more eyes on them than multiple graded stakes winner Buddy's Saint, who makes his 3-year-old debut in the Grade II, $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday.

Ever since Buddy's Saint powered to a 43/4-length victory in the Grade II, 11⁄8-mile Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in November — an effort that came 21 days after his 12-length romp in the Grade II Nashua — the straight-shooting Levine has been inundated with inquiries about the bay son of Saint Liam.

After nearly 21/2 months of speculating how Buddy's Saint would make the transition to his 3-year-old season, Levine is ready for some answers.

"It makes you more nervous having a horse like him compared to the average horse, no doubt about it," said Levine, who has been one of the top trainers in New York for years but has yet to start a horse in the Derby. "It was not until we got near his first race that I knew that he was more than just an OK horse, but I didn't know he would be the kind of horse that would put us in the position we are now.

"In the Thoroughbred business, the Triple Crown is the most exciting thing. For me, being involved in it, it's just the greatest time of the year."

The only blemish on the three-race résumé of Buddy's Saint is his career debut when he crossed the wire first but was disqualified to second for bumping in the stretch.

While he has the advantage of already owning a victory over the Fountain of Youth's 11⁄8-mile distance, Buddy's Saint will be facing a daunting lineup of challengers that includes multiple stakes winner Jackson Bend, turf standout Lost Aptitude, and highly touted stakes winner Eskendereya.

"His last work (6 furlongs in 1:13.40) gives me a lot of confidence because he did it so easy," Levine said. "Everything is behind us now."

■ As deep as the Fountain of Youth field is, the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds can match it.

The Tom Amoss-trained Ron the Greek unleashed a furious last-to-first rally to win the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 23, and he should have an honest pace to run at Saturday with the presence of Tempted to Tapit in the field.

Drosselmeyer will be testing stakes company for the first time in the Risen Star, but could vie for favoritism with Ron the Greek off his 13/4-length win in a 11⁄8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream on Jan. 31.

■ One unexpected addition to Saturday's schedule is Oaklawn Park's Grade III Southwest Stakes, which was postponed Monday because of frigid conditions that caused the track to freeze.

The same slate of 10 horses returned for the 1-mile race, including Smarty Jones Stakes winner Dryfly, San Rafael Stakes winner Conveyance, and Grade I winner Dublin, who will be running for the first time since undergoing surgery for an entrapped epiglottis.

"Everybody's in the same boat," D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Dublin, said of the cancellation. "They did the right thing, though. I just hope I'm not unlucky again."

For the undefeated Conveyance, the Southwest will mark his first start on dirt.

"He moves over this track well, better than the synthetic surface," said Jimmy Barnes, assistant trainer to Bob Baffert. "This will be a good trip, to check out the dirt track with him and how he travels."

■ The Grade II Hutcheson Stakes over 7 furlongs will be on the undercard of the Fountain of Youth program and features the 3-year-old debut of Grade II winner D'Funnybone.

■ At Golden Gate Fields, California Derby winner Ranger Heartley faces Connemara in the Grade III, $150,000 El Camino Real Derby.

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