HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Jose Garoffalo shipped Wildcat Red to Churchill Downs with a good feeling about the 3-year-old colt’s chances for victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 3.
“It was hard, because the expectations in the Derby were high. At the same time, I accepted it. Those things happen. The most important thing was that he came back in good shape,” Garoffalo said. “Thank God, he doesn’t have any problems. He could have been hurt very badly.”
Following a well-deserved break, Wildcat Red is set for a return to racing action Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the $75,000 Quality Road Stakes for 3-year-olds. Honors Stable Corp.’s colt has had three workouts in preparation for the 1 1/16-mile stakes, which Garoffalo hopes will serve as a prep for the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3.
“The horse came back in really good shape after the workout. He’s training really well. He’s coming back to being himself,” Garoffalo said. “We’re ready to run.”
Other than his unlucky journey to Kentucky, Wildcat Red has run exclusively at Gulfstream Park, where he broke his maiden on Sept. 14, 2013.
“From the first time he hit the track, galloping, I knew he was going to be a good horse. But I didn’t know how far he could go,” Garoffalo said. “With every breeze he showed me he was going to be the horse he is now. It was a gut feeling.”
Wildcat Red followed up his debut victory with a pair of first-place finishes, including a first-placed-second effort in the 6 ½-furlong Juvenile Sprint for Florida-bred juveniles on Nov. 9. He made his open-company stakes debut in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, when he set a pressured pace, only to lose by a head to General a Rod. Wildcat Red earned his first graded-stakes win in the seven-furlong Hutcheson (G3) before going on to turn the tables on General a Rod by the margin of a head in the 1 1/16-mile Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 22.
“When he handled the mile very well, I felt he would be able to go two turns,” Garoffalo said. “The race that really made me think seriously about the Kentucky Derby was the Fountain of Youth. That was a memorable race. He proved that he would go the two turns and he proved he could fight and fight around two turns.”
Wildcat Red made a determined bid to win right back in the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (G1) on March 29, falling just a neck short of holding off Constitution in the shadow of the finish line.
Luis Saez, who rode Wildcat Red to victory in the Fountain of Youth and in his troubled Kentucky Derby trip, has been named to ride the likely odds-on favorite in a field of seven entered Wednesday for the Quality Road.
Wildcat Red is the only graded-stakes winner in the field, which includes the multiple stakes-placed East Hall, who has encountered the Garoffalo trainee on three occasions, finishing third in the Gulfstream Park Derby, fourth in the Fountain of Youth and fifth in the Florida Derby.
“Wildcat Red has to be not as good and East Hall has to be a little better than he was,” said trainer Bill Kaplan, offering a scenario in which East Hall might be able to pull off an upset Saturday.
East Hall most recently finished with a late kick to come in second behind C. Zee by three-quarters of a length in the Sir Bear Stakes at Gulfstream on Kentucky Derby Day.
The Steve DiMauro-trained Notyouraveragejoe and Stanley Gold-trained Best Plan Yet are the only stakes winners other than Wildcat Red in the Quality Road field. Notyouraveragejoe, who captured the Juvenile Turf for Florida breds and finished second in the off-the-turf Pulpit last fall, is scheduled to make his 2014 debut Saturday. Best Plan Yet, who won the Foolish Pleasure and the In Reality last year, is still looking for his first victory of 2014.
Purchango, Real Steel and Shiva Curlin round out the field for the Quality Road, which offers a $15,000 Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association bonus.