(Gotta Go in the paddock at Churchill Downs before he broke his maiden / Photo By Gene McLean)

On Saturday, Ian Wilkes will saddle up the beautiful Gotta Go for the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. And, by all rights, it is time for Gotta Go to get up and go.

After all, it is getting Kentucky Derby time. It is getting time to separate the pretenders from the contenders time. It is getting cutting time. And, it just may be time for Gotta Go Time.

On Tuesday, I texted the affable and gracious Wilkes to check in on his talented colt. I asked if his colt was “…all ready for this weekend?”

The never-wordy Wilkes responded quickly and succinctly: “Yes sir.”

Going into the Fountain of Youth, there are a couple of things we know for sure:

Ian Wilkes — who was the assistant trainer to Carl Nafzger when they saddled the great Unbridled in the Kentucky Derby — knows his way around a good horse. Remember Fort Larned? And, McCraken?

And, Gotta Go has real talent. And, that is the reason why The Pressbox has always included the colt in our Kentucky Derby Rankings.

The 3YO son of Shanghai Bobby first demonstrated that talent last fall when he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs in September against a very nice field of colts that included Dale Romans’ super-fast and talented colt Cove Blue. (Better keep an eye on that guy, too!)

And, he reaffirmed it when he dusted off the likes of Lone Sailor, Bravazo and Ebben in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October. That is the same Stakes event that Wilkes won in 2016 with McCraken, and the same race named after the Kentucky Derby winner, whom Wilkes was an assistant trainer for, at the time.

But, more importantly, that was the Stakes event that Gotta Go stamped his name firmly on the talent bar. Did you take note of those names and those horses that Gotta Go beat that day, Derby fanatics and media types?

Bravazo just won the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds; moved his record to 2-for-2 this year; and is now one of the top contenders for the Louisiana Derby.

Lone Sailor, a son of Warrior’s Reward, just ran a game second to a horse getting all kinds of compliments of late by the name of Dark Templar — a son of Tapit, trained by Brendan Walsh.

Ebben, who despite drawing wide and near impossible post positions in both the LeComte Stakes and the Risen Star, has posted back-to-back 6th place finishes in those two Derby preps.

Really, the only true blemish on Gotta Go’s record came in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November, when he drew the rail and was caught up in a mess of horses and riders going into the first turn. Eventually, that logjam turned into pickle jelly, when that jockey Frankie Pennington was dropped and a bunch of other horses — including Gotta Go — were nearly  jostled to the ground.

After that debacle, Wilkes decided it was time to head South. A little rest. A little time to clear the mind. A little time to regroup, regather, and regain some momentum. On Feb. 3, the time came to try again in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream.

That day, Strike Power — a powerful sprinter type — took flight and never looked back on the speed-favoring track.

That day, Gotta Go with jockey Chris Landeros in the saddle, was dropped back to last. He was asked to relax. He was taught. And, he learned well.

That day, some of us took notice.

Gotta Go came running with a blast in the final quarter mile to finish second in the 7-furlong test. He was never going to win that day. But he may always remember his lessons learned well.

On Saturday, Gotta Go will get a more stern test when he faces some of the more heralded 3YOs in the class. But it just may be Gotta Go Time, too.