Eight-Horse Field includes Stakes Winners Wildcat Red, General a Rod, Spot
Florida Derby Highlights $2 Million Card with Eight Stakes, Including Seven Graded
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ Cairo Prince made a spectacular 2014 debut in the $400,000 Miller Lite Holy Bull Stakes (G2) on Jan. 25, sweeping around horses on the turn and drawing off to an exciting 5 Â¾-length victory. While demonstrating an abundant amount of class, talent and professionalism, the 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile left Gulfstream Park fans wanting to see more.
Anticipation for what Cairo Prince will do for an encore has been building for eight long weeks, but the Thoroughbred world will finally get the chance to see the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained star back in action Saturday in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1).
After Cairo Prince registered his third victory in four starts in the Holy Bull, McLaughlin decided to bypass the $400,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on Feb. 22 and train the Kentucky-bred colt up to Gulfstreamâ€™s signature race, which will anchor a 12-race program with eight stakes, including seven graded, and more than $2 million in purses (NBC Sports Network, 6:30-7:30 p.m).
McLaughlin is expecting the exact same Cairo Prince that won the Holy Bull to show up at Gulfstream Saturday to take on seven rivals entered Wednesday morning for the 63rd running of the Florida Derby.
â€œI donâ€™t want to see any changes. I donâ€™t want any changes. This is a special horse. All I want to do is keep him sound and healthy and to get him in the starting gate,â€ McLaughlin said. â€œI donâ€™t want to see any changes. Changes would be negative. He couldnâ€™t be doing any better.â€
McLaughlin will bring back Cairo Prince from the two-month layoff with a high degree of confidence that his colt will be in top form, having established a record of excellence in returning major stakes horses from long layoffs, most notably with 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor, who captured the Breedersâ€™ Cup Classic (G1) off a scheduled three-month layoff.
â€œWe have a great team of help. But more importantly, Iâ€™m going to say itâ€™s more about the horses,â€ McLaughlin said. â€œEvery day of training is important. We get a lot of miles in, but I donâ€™t feel like we do anything different from anyone else off the layoff. Itâ€™s spotting them well in races, and itâ€™s the horse. Itâ€™s important to have the right horse.â€
Cairo Prince, who was installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the Florida Derby, brings an imposing record into the premiere prep that has produced the winners of 57 Triple Crown events. He broke his maiden at first asking with a 2 Â¾-length victory at Belmont last year on Oct. 8 and came right back to win the Nashua (G2) by 2 Â½ lengths on Nov. 3. He came up a nose short of capturing the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct on Nov. 30 while conceding six pounds to victorious Honor Code. Nearly two months later, he ran away with the Holy Bull to establish himself as the top-ranking Triple Crown prospect.
Despite his stellar record, Cairo Prince is hardly assured of qualifying for the first leg of the Triple Crown, having amassed only 14 points. He will need a victory or a second-place finish under jockey Luis Saez in the Florida Derby to be assured of making it to Louisville on the first Saturday in May. The Florida Derby has 170 points up for grabs with 100 going to the winner, 40 to the place horse, 20 to the show horse and 10 for the fourth-place finisher.
â€œI donâ€™t care what system they use, theyâ€™ve got to have a safeguard of having three spots, five spots that the racing secretary can fill with horses that deserve to run that donâ€™t have enough points,â€ said McLaughlin, who trains Cairo Prince for Sheikh Mohammedâ€™s Darley, Harvey Clarke, W. Craig Robertson III, Paul Braverman and J. Terrence Murray. â€œThe Breedersâ€™ Cup does it. It works fine.
â€œWhat if Cairo Prince drops the rider warming up and scratches? He should be in the Derby, but we only have 14 points. Thereâ€™s no safeguard. They want us in there because heâ€™s one of the best horses.â€
While Cairo Prince was training for the Florida Derby, Wildcat Red picked up enough points to qualify for the first leg of the Triple Crown while posting a courageous narrow triumph over General a Rod in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth. The son of Dâ€™Wildcat has won five of six lifetime starts, all at Gulfstream, since breaking his maiden by six lengths last September, his only defeat being a narrow loss to General a Rod in the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1.
The Jose Garoffalo-trained colt rebounded to win the seven-furlong $200,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G3) on Feb. 1 by 4 Â¾ lengths before successfully stretching out around two turns for the first time in the Fountain of Youth, in which he was involved in a race-long battle with General a Rod before edging that rival. Garoffalo is confident that Honor Stable Corp.â€™s Florida-bred colt will carry his speed over 1 1/8 miles Saturday.
â€œI think itâ€™s going to be easier, still easier for him, because the pace is supposed to be slower. I think the slower he goes, the further he can go,â€ Garoffalo said. â€œIâ€™m not worried about the extra half of a furlong in the race â€“ thatâ€™s going to be in the favor of my horse.â€
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez is scheduled to ride Wildcat Red, rated second at 3-1 in the morning line, for the first time.
â€œI feel itâ€™s going to be a tough race, but the horse has been training very good and the horse has been feeling very good,â€ Garoffalo said. â€œThere is no reason not to be confident.â€
General a Rodâ€™s trainer, Michael Maker, said longer distances will only help the son of Roman Ruler, who was rated third at 7-2 in the morning line.
â€œYou guys havenâ€™t seen it yet but I think his best asset is going to be his tactical speed,â€ Maker said. â€œHeâ€™s got a high cruising speed, and I think youâ€™ll see the true General a Rod once the distances increase.â€
General a Rod debuted with a 2 Â¾-length victory at seven furlongs at Keeneland last October before finishing second behind Conquest Titan in a mile allowance at Churchill on Nov. 30. J. Armando Rodriguezâ€™s colt outdueled Wildcat Red in the Gulfstream Derby on Jan. 1 before losing the decision by a head to the same rival in the Fountain of Youth.
â€œHe was always a good-looking horse that made an impression right away as soon as he stepped into the barn,â€ Maker said. â€œHe has never disappointed us.â€
Joel Rosario, who was aboard for the Gulfstream Park Derby win and rode Orb to a Florida Derby victory last year, will be reunited with General a Rod for the Florida Derby.
Constitution has hardly been a disappointment in his two lifetime starts, both convincing victories at Gulfstream Park. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt broke his maiden at first asking on Jan. 11 despite a slow start before capturing an entry-level 1 1/16-mile allowance on the front-end by 3 Â¼ lengths in a time that compared favorably with that registered by Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth later in the day. The Todd Pletcher-trained son of Tapit was rated fourth in the morning line at 4-1 for his quantum leap to Grade 1 stakes.
â€œIt takes a very talented, quality horse to do that. Itâ€™s something that we donâ€™t often try. We only do it with horses that we feel like merit that type of consideration,â€ said Pletcher, who trains Constitution for Twin Creeks Racing and WinStar Farm. â€œHeâ€™s been perfect so far. Both of his races have been very good. He showed heart and determination in his first race when he didnâ€™t break well. His second race went as we planned. Heâ€™s a horse that always trained like heâ€™s capable of those type of efforts, but at the same time you have to respect what a difficult thing it is to do in only his third lifetime start.â€
Leading rider Javier Castellano has the return mount on Constitution.
Spot, who finished fifth behind Wildcat Red in the Hutcheson in his stakes debut, made his first start for owner Joseph Moss and trainer Nick Zito a winning one in the $200,000 Swale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream on March 1. The gelded son of Pulpit sat off the pace before making a sweeping move to the lead and upsetting heavily favored No Nay Never by 2 Â½ lengths in the seven-furlong stakes.
Zito, who has named Corey Lanerie to ride, said he has witnessed Spot continue to blossom in his training since his impressive Swale victory.
â€œIâ€™ve been in enough of these things to know that you need to get good at the right time,â€ said Zito, who has saddled three Florida Derby winners: High Fly (2005), Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011).
Spot is rated at 8-1 in the morning line.
Matador , a late-running colt who finished fourth in the Sam F Davis (G3) and fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), will be equipped with blinkers for the first time by trainer Mark Casse with the hope of getting the son of Malibu Moon to show a little more early interest in the race. Rated at 15-1 in the morning line, Matador is owned by John C. Oxley and will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
East Hall, who finished a late-closing third in the Gulfstream Derby and fourth in the Fountain of Youth before finishing a disappointing eighth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), is rated at 20-1 in the morning line. Trainer Bill Kaplan named Juan Leyva to ride the son of Graeme Hall, who is owned by H. Jack Hendricks and Roger Justice.
Crossed Sabres Farmâ€™s Allstar , a recent allowance winner at Calder, is 30-1 in the morning line. Trainer Marcus Vitali and jockey Orlando Bocachica both registered the first Grade 1 victories of their respective careers with Lochteâ€™s upset in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on Feb. 8.
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