Constitution Stays Undefeated With Win in $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – The $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby has produced the winners of 57 Triple Crown events. Gulfstream Park’s signature race also provides one last opportunity for inexperienced 3-year-olds to prove that they belong in the Triple Crown.
Making only his third lifetime start and his stake debut in the Grade 1 Triple Crown prep, Constitution showed he belonged with the big colts Saturday at Gulfstream, emerging from a furious stretch battle with multiple graded-stakes winner Wildcat Red with the hard-fought victory by the margin of a neck.
“I’m very, very proud of him. It’s a testament to the quality of horse he is – to go from a maiden to an allowance to a Grade 1 and to show a different running style and get some dirt in his face and put in an effort like that against much more seasoned horses,” said Todd Pletcher, the defending 10-time training champion at Gulfstream. “It was a huge effort.”
The Florida Derby offered 170 qualifying points for the first leg of the Triple Crown, with 100 points for the win, 40 for place, 20 for show and 10 for fourth.
The victory in the 63rd Florida Derby automatically qualified Constitution for a spot in the starting gate on May 3.In addition to getting the better of Wildcat Red, the winner of the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) and the $200,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) at the current Champions Meet, Constitution prevailed over such experienced stakes performers as Gulfstream Park Derby winner General a Rod and 6-5 favorite Cairo Prince. Cairo Prince, who hadn’t run since capturing the $400,000 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream on Jan. 25, sat off the early pace and could not get closer than fourth behind Constitution, Wildcat Red and General a Rod.
“He got out to make his move at the 3/8-pole like we thought and he flattened out. Maybe the nine weeks (off) was telling on him; maybe the inside was better; it's hard to say, but we'll regroup and move on to May 3,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, referring to the first leg of the Triple Crown.Wildcat Red, who had already earned his way into the Triple Crown in the Fountain of Youth, will join Constitution and possibly Cairo Prince.
“We lost the rail at one point and Castellano was smart enough to take the rail at the top of the stretch, and that was it,” said Wildcat Red’s trainer Jose Garoffalo. “We were very happy with the race. If the horse comes back in good shape, we are going to go to Louisville.”
Constitution, who will try to become the first horse since Apollo (1882) to capture the first leg of the Triple Crown after going unraced as a 2-year-old, was equal to the challenge of taking on more seasoned colts Saturday. Outsprinted by Wildcat Red and General a Rod heading into the first turn, Constitution was tucked on the inside behind the early pace setters by jockey Javier Castellano. Wildcat Red showed the way along the backstretch through fractions of :24.01 and :48.19 for the first half, tracked by General a Rod to his outside and tailed by Constitution right behind him.
Wildcat Red continued to show the way under John Velazquez around the far turn as Joel Rosario urged on General a Rod and Luis Saez put Cairo Prince into a drive turning for home. Wildcat Red showed the way into the stretch while drifting out a bit, leaving room for Constitution and jockey Javier Castellano, setting up a stretch battle that generated a trackside roar from the fans. In the end, it would be Constitution emerging with a victory over the tenacious Wildcat Red, giving his trainer his fourth win on the afternoon and his jockey his fifth victory on the card.
“It didn’t unfold exactly like we had planned. We were thinking we’d be in the same stalking position that General a Rod was in. When that didn’t happen, Javier called an audible and tucked into a good spot. He felt there might be a good opportunity to slip inside Wildcat Red at some point. He was able to cut the corner and get through there,” Pletcher said. “You know when he gets in a battle with Wildcat Red it’s going to be a battle. It gives you confidence moving forward, knowing he got some education and got some dirt in his face.”
Constitution, a son of Tapit, ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.16 to earn $600,000 for the partnership of WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables.
“I took a shot (staying on the rail). It's race-riding. Sometimes you have to anticipate what's going to happen in the race and you study the jockeys,” Castellano said. “I know that Johnny V isn't going to open the rail for anybody. I took a shot and his horse didn't help him much when he tried to drift a little. I cut the corner and it worked out great for me."
The loss in the Florida Derby was only the second time in seven starts that Wildcat Red didn’t get to the finish line first, the first time came in a loss by a head to General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby.
“I saw (Constitution) coming behind me, but I couldn't do anything about it. My horse was getting out and I was trying to close the door, but he was getting out and not helping me and that was it,” said Velazquez. “That was the difference right there."
General A Rod, who had finished a head behind Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth, finished 1 ¼ miles behind Wildcat Red in the Florida Derby.
“It took him a little bit to keep him going and Johnny already had a good position on the outside he was coming out a little bit and I just followed him the whole way and opened up the inside a little bit and Constitution came through the rail and it was over from there,” Rosario said. “My horse ran great and tried very hard. He ran a great race. It was a little quick, but that’s how it goes sometimes, I guess we were third best today.”
Cairo Prince finished another 2 ¼ lengths back in fourth.“I had a pretty good trip. He broke so well. We got a clear position at the 5/8th pole and then he was making his move, but when the other horses kept running, he got a little tired,” jockey Luis Saez said. “He's better than that. He's a good, nice horse."
Cairo Prince was followed to the finish line by East Hall, Matador, Spot and Allstar, respectively.