Florida Derby News & Notes
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Constitution emerged from his courageous victory in Saturday’s $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park in good order, reported trainer Todd Pletcher. “He came out of (the Florida Derby) really well. He returned home to Palm Meadows this morning and seemed to be in good shape,” said Pletcher Sunday afternoon while being honored as the leading trainer Gulfstream’s Champions Meet for the 11th consecutive year.
Undefeated in three career starts, all coming during Gulfstream Park’s Champions Meet, Constitution saved ground behind pacesetter Wildcat Red before slipping through an opening along the rail turning for home and going on to win a stretch battle with the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) winner by a neck.
The Kentucky-bred colt was making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby, while running 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.16 under Javier Castellano, who was honored Sunday for winning his third consecutive Champions Meet title in a row. “He's a horse that has progressed a lot over the winter. He broke his maiden in January, won an allowance in February and he won the Florida Derby in just his third start--that's pretty impressive,” said Pletcher, who trains the son of Tapit for the partnership of Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm.
Constitution will continue to train for Triple Crown at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. For how long has yet to be determined.
“I’m not a 100 percent sure yet. I’m thinking about 12 days before. I’d like to have one work at Churchill,” Pletcher said. “I’ll just have to see how the weather is here and how the weather is there. I’ll have to see how things go about flight arrangements and things like that.”
Wildcat Red Headed to Louisville
A stubborn runner-up in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) on Saturday, Florida-bred Wildcat Red will remain at Gulfstream Park to prepare for his next start.
Trainer Jose Garoffalo said Sunday morning he will point the multiple graded stakes winner to the first leg of the Triple Crown on May 3 after his neck loss to Constitution in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby.
“It was kind of bittersweet, but good. We’re happy with the horse,” Garoffalo said. “The horse did his job. We trained the horse to win the race, but races are races. You can either win or lose. But the horse showed that he can go longer, and proved to a lot of people that they were wrong. In a way, there are a lot of positive points. “We still have to evaluate the horse. We’ll give him two or three days to check how the horse is doing, but according to the way he came back everything seems that we’re going to go to Louisville.” Wildcat Red has four wins and three seconds in seven starts, all at Gulfstream Park, including the seven-furlong Hutcheson (G3) and 8 ½-furlong Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2).
Garoffalo is not concerned about shipping the son of Grade 1-winning sprinter D’wildcat or running on a new track. “We’re going to be there maybe a week before and let the horse adapt to the track,” he said. “He’s the kind of horse that can run on any track. I’m not afraid of the track or if he’s going to handle it. We will give him the opportunity to know the track. We’re probably going to work here and we’ll only gallop there. He’s a smart horse.”
Purchased for $30,000 last March, Wildcat Red has now banked $690,850 for Garoffalo and owner Honors Stable Corp., neither of which have had a Triple Crown starter.
“He is a monster,” Garoffalo said. “He’s the kind of horse that you don’t see too often. He’s got the heart, he’s got the guts. He’s amazing. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
Changes for General a Rod As He Moves Toward Kentucky
General a Rod left Gulfstream Park early Sunday morning on a flight back to trainer Mike Maker’s base in Kentucky, where he will continue on the Triple Crown trail.
The Roman Ruler colt emerged from his third-place finish in Saturday’s $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) in good shape said Maker’s assistant, Elesar Chavez.
Maker flew back to Kentucky after saddling Vicar’s In Trouble to a win in the Louisiana Derby. Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Vicar’s In Trouble did his final work for the Fair Grounds race at Gulfstream.
“He came back really good,” Chavez said of General a Rod. “He came back like it was nothing. He was fine. I talked to Mike this morning and told him the horse came back really good, but he needed a little bit more teaching of how to pass the other horses. Mike said he was happy to be third, the way the horse ran.” Winner of the Jan. 1 Gulfstream Park Derby and second in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 22 to Wildcat Red, General a Rod dueled with that rival through six furlongs in 1:12 before giving way in the Florida Derby. He was beaten 1 ¼ lengths by Constitution, finishing 2 ¼ lengths ahead of multiple Grade 2 winner and 6-5 favorite Cairo Prince.
General a Rod has raced once previously at Churchill Downs, finishing second to Conquest Titan in a one-mile entry-level allowance on Nov. 30.
“He beat some nice horses,” Chavez said. “I asked Mike what he thought and he said he proved he could run, and he’s going to make a couple changes so he can run better next time. He said if everything is well, he is going to go on to the next one.”
Cairo Prince ‘Happy and Sharp’ After Florida Derby Disappointment
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was extremely disappointed by Cairo Prince’s fourth-place performance in Saturday’s Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, but he couldn’t have been more satisfied with the beaten favorite’s condition at Palm Meadows Sunday morning.
“He’s very happy and sharp out of the race,” McLaughlin said. “But it’s just been a tough, tough day.” Cairo Prince, who was sent to post as the 6-5 favorite in Gulfstream’s signature race on the strength of his dominating victory in the $400,000 Holy Bull (G2) on Jan. 25, sat off the early pace under jockey Luis Saez and was never able to truly get into the race won by Constitution following a thrilling stretch duel with Wildcat Red.
“I haven’t been able to say what went wrong. It’s very disappointing,” McLaughlin said. “We’re disappointed, almost shocked at the results. But it is horse racing and it is what it is. He’s fine out of the race and we’d like to go on if we can, but the points situation isn’t favorable.”
The Florida Derby had 170 points up for grabs in the system used in qualifying for the first leg of the Triple Crown with 100 for the win, 40 for the place, 20 for the show and 10 for fourth. Constitution, runner-up Wildcat Red and third-place finisher General a Rod are headed for Louisville on the first Saturday in May, but Cairo Prince’s 24 total points may not be enough to earn a spot in the starting gate. With the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass schedule still yet to be run, Cairo Prince, currently 16th in the race for 20 spots, is in serious jeopardy of being shut out.
“The way the points are now, there are four races out there for eight horses to get first and second (and enough points to qualify). So we’re hoping that they’re already in, but that’s not likely,” McLaughlin said. McLaughlin said he’d make no definite plans until talking with the owners of Cairo Prince, including majority owner Godolphin Racing.
“He’s going to stay here right now, but that could change,” McLaughlin said. “Plan A didn’t work and we don’t really have a Plan B. I’m going to have to talk to everybody, all the owners, and make a Plan B.”