Though relatively early on the Derby trail, it's unlikely there will be another two-way duel as good as the one in the $415,000 Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (gr. II), won by Wildcat Red over General a Rod Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO).
The two colts fought all the way on the front end through fast fractions and settled matters down the long Gulfstream Park stretch. Wildcat Red, ridden on the inside by Luis Saez Jr., was judged a head better than General a Rod and Javier Castellano, who lost the most important photo on a day he won six earlier races.
Top Billing, the 2-1 favorite in the field of 12 3-year-olds, made a big move rounding the far turn for Joel Rosario before settling for third. He was two lengths behind the first two.
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event on a fast track was a strong 1:41.85.
This was not the first time that Wildcat Red and General a Rod have duked it out during the Gulfstream meet. They were separated by a head in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby Jan. 1, with General a Rod prevailing that day.
Wildcat Red, sent off at odds of 9-2, won the rematch in a spine-tingler. The son of D'wildcat stretched out successfully to two turns after winning the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 1 for Honors Stable and Venezuelan-born trainer Jose Garoffalo. For a full story on the colt's connections, click here.
"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."
The strapping chestnut colt was bred in Florida by Moreau Bloodstock International and Winter Racing Enterprise out of the Miner's Mark mare Racene. He sold for $30,000 to Garoffalo at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s June 2013 2-year-olds & horses of racing age sale from the Classic Bloodstock consignment.
"I go to the sales with a limited budget and I liked everything about the horse—the way he breezed, his athletic body, and more than anything—his attitude. I got lucky that he exactly fit the budget ($30,000).
"Saez deserves to ride the horse again unless he changes his mind, but for the moment that's not the issue."
Garoffalo said the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) March 29 at 1 1/8 miles would be next for Wildcat Red
"depending on how the horse comes back, and then we'll see."
Saez, who rode Wildcat Red for the first time in the Fountain of Youth, is also the jockey for Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner Cairo Prince . He indicated after his latest win that he planned to stick with Cairo Prince.
Wildcat Red, racing a bit off the rail, had the lead at the first call, and he traded the lead with General a Rod a couple of times before getting the advantage back at six furlongs after subsequent splits of :46.25 and 1:10.13. Neither led by more than a head before Wildcat Red, after switching leads, opened up by about a neck in deep stretch. But General a Rod fought back in the last strides and just missed in the final jump.
"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 fight, and he never let the other horse pass him. He's a great horse.
"(At the wire) I wasn't sure, but I thought I got the win."
Castellano, the leading rider at Gulfstream by a long margin, had no complaints on his six-win bobblehead day at Gulfstream.
"The horse gave me everything he had. Unfortunately, he just got beat by the bob," he said.
Shug McGaughey trainee Top Billing, some 13 or so lengths while racing in the rear of the field for the first half mile, launched his bid from between horses on the final turn and made up big ground in the stretch for a good third. He was 4 1/2 lengths clear of 72-1 East Hall, who was followed by Medal Count , Commissioner , Our Caravan, We Miss Artie , Best Plan Yet, C. Zee, Almost Famous, and Hesinfront. Casiguapo scratched.
Wildcat Red improved his record to four wins and two seconds from six starts. The winner's share of $255,000 more than doubled his earnings to $490,850. He won two of three starts as a 2-year-old after being disqualified from first to second in Gulfstream's Juvenile Sprint last November. His Hutcheson victory, by 4 3/4 lengths as the 2-1 favorite, was visually impressive.
Carrying 120 pounds, the winner paid $11, $5, and $3.40 as the fourth choice. General a Rod, the 3-1 second pick in his first start since the Gulfstream Park Derby win, returned $4.60 and $3.20. They combined for a $46.20 exacta. Top Billing paid $2.60.
"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."
The Fountain of Youth offers points on a 50-20-10-5 basis toward a possible start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and was Wildcat Red's first opportunity to register on the road to the Kentucky Derby system. He now sits second on the leaderboard behind Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner Intense Holiday (53).