HALLANDALE BEACH, FL -- Any questions about Wildcat Red's future that may have been raised by his troubled 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby were dismissed emphatically Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where the multiple-stakes winner romped to a 10 1/4-length victory in the $90,000 Quality Road.
"Actually, I'm more impressed than I expected to be impressed," said trainer Jose Garoffalo, whose trainee was ridden by Luis Saez in the 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds. "These races, when they seem too easy, I feel kind of nervous. When I run in a tougher race, I feel more confident. Sometimes you never know what's going to happen."
Wildcat Red had never finished worse than second in seven starts previous to the Derby, all at Gulfstream, winning the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Hutcheson (G3) and finishing a close second to Constitution in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1). Sent to post at 3-10 favoritism in a field of seven, Wildcat Red was expected to have an easy time of things in the Quality Road, and he did, except for a brief three-horse challenge to his outside during a 22.85-second first quarter. Saez sat quietly aboard the son of D'wildcat along the rail while lapped on by longshots Purchango, Notyouraveragejoe and Best Plan Yet, before letting his mount assert himself along the backstretch.
"Luis was very smart. He let the other horses run faster than him and let him settle a little the first quarter of a mile. I wasn't worried about that. I had a lot of confidence in the rider," Garoffalo said. "He was running about the same fractions that he ran in the Fountain of Youth against better horses."
Wildcat Red drew clear past a half-mile in 45.91 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.38 without any pressure coming from Saez and went on to register a convincing victory.
"I felt good [in the early going], because I knew that I had a lot of horse. I can do whatever I want [with him]," said Saez, who had previously ridden Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth and the Kentucky Derby. "This horse felt better today than other days. Now he's good. He feels different. He's big and has got more experience. I think he's going to be tough next time out."
Wildcat Red, who earned $60,000 for the Honors Stable Corp., ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.70. East Hall, the 3-1 second choice ridden by Juan Leyva, finished a distant second, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of Real Steel and jockey Abdiel Jaen.
Garoffalo will point Wildcat Red toward the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 27.
"The horse showed his class again, especially with his problems in the Derby," Garoffalo said. "I think with this race, the horse will be ready for the next one, which will be the Haskell."
While some horses never recover from rough trips in the Kentucky Derby and don't regain their form, Garoffalo was confident that Wildcat Red would be the same horse in the Quality Road that he was during Gulfstream's Champions Meet.
"After the Derby he came back in good shape. He came back sound. Luis was very smart in the Derby. When he saw that the horse had no chance, he didn't force him. I think that's the difference between having a horse sound for the rest of the year and having a horse with some problems," Garoffalo said. "He didn't really run in that race."
But he sure ran back to his previous form in the Quality Road.