Wildcat Red Gamely Wins $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL -- Seven weeks ago, General a Rod and Wildcat Red thrilled the New Year's Day crowd when they battled the length of the stretch in the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby. General a Rod hit the wire first that day, but Wildcat Red was able to turn the tables on his rival with more on the line in the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) today at Gulfstream.
Ridden here by Luis Saez, Wildcat Red ($11.00) was drawn advantageously in post four alongside General a Rod. The two colts jumped away smartly with the short run to the first turn and were clear by the time of the others by the time they hit the backstretch. Top Billing, favored at 2-1, dropped in to save ground in last, while second-choice Commissioner raced in mid-pack. Wildcat Red and General a Rod battled through six furlongs in 1:10.13 and continued to duke it out in front of the grandstand. They flashed across the line in tandem and were timed in 1:41.85 for the 8 1/2 furlongs.
"(At the top of the stretch), I knew I was going to win the race, because my horse, all the time he tries so hard," Saez said. "When we came into the stretch, he fought, and he never let the other horse pass him. He's a great horse."
Following the Gulfstream Park Derby, Garoffalo had hoped to run Wildcat Red in the $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on January 25, but was forced to skip that test when the colt developed mucus. Plan B turned out to be the $200,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream a week later, and Wildcat Red was ridden by Javier Castellano to an impressive 4 3/4-length success in that seven-furlong contest. Saez, who is also the regular rider for Holy Bull hero Cairo Prince, took over the reins this time. Wildcat Red had crossed the line first in four of his five previous outings, all at one turn, and the Fountain of Youth marked his first attempt at a route.
"We proved that we were right - that the horse could get the distance," Garoffalo said. "I thought (General a Rod) was the horse to beat and the race was a copy of the last race, the Gulfstream Park Derby, but this time I got lucky and I beat him. I was expecting him to be right next to or right behind me. Javier (Castellano, on General a Rod) knows my horse, that's why he went after him very early. When my horse feels another horse alongside, he runs harder. Now we can think seriously about the (Kentucky) Derby. He never quits and he likes that - to feel the horse next to him. I was very confident at the wire. I knew that he was going to beat him this time." Wildcat Red, a $30,000 juvenile purchase, has earned $475,850 for owner Honors Stable Corp. Garoffalo acknowledged that the Fountain of Youth was a career highlight.
"The Florida Derby (March 29) will be the next step, depending on how the horse comes back, and then we'll see," Garoffalo added. "If everything goes the right way, we will go straight to Churchill Downs, hopefully. Saez deserves to ride the horse again unless he changes his mind, but for the moment that's not the issue. I won a Grade 2 a couple of years ago, but this is for 3-year-old colts and that gets the most attention because it's the road to the Derby."
Castellano rode six winners on the Fountain of Youth card, but came up short in the featured event.
“I had a beautiful trip," the leading rider said. "It was where I wanted to be. He’s such a nice horse. It was a competitive race. I had a lot of chances to win the race. The horse gave me everything he had. Unfortunately, he just got beat by the bob.”
Top Billing, last on the first turn, made good progress to finish a clear third for trainer Shug McGaughey. "We just couldn't catch them," McGaughey said. "He made a good run, I thought at the quarter pole we probably had them, but we just couldn't get to them."
His jockey, Joel Rosario, felt his stretch-running mount gave a solid effort.
"He broke well and he's the type of horse that takes a little time to get in the race," Rosario commented. "It looks like the track is holding speed today, but I think he ran well. He's a smart horse and he finished well. They were going pretty quick and didn't let up. That was a good race for him, I think."
Commissioner, the second choice in the wagering at 7-2, split the field to finish sixth.
“I thought he ran pretty well, better than it probably looks on paper," trainer Todd Pletcher remarked. "He broke well and put himself into a decent spot, but the way the track’s playing speed is so, so good right now and it’s hard to make up much ground."
By virtue of his Fountain of Youth success, Wildcat Red earned 50 points in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. General a Rod garnered 20, while Top Billing took 10 and fourth-place finisher East Hall gained five points.