As the buildup continues for the $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) March 29, Honors Stable's Wildcat Red is acting like he can't wait.
"He has been full of himself," Jose Garoffalo, Wildcat Red's trainer, said March 19 at his barn at Gulfstream Park.
Garoffalo has been seeing that high level of confidence and energy since Wildcat Red beat J. Armando Rodriguez's General a Rod by ahead after a classic race-long duel in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Feb. 22.
"He's flying (on the track) and he's up on his toes," Garoffalo said shortly after Wildcat Red had his morning gallop. "We just have to wait for the race."
Minutes earlier, the D'wildcat colt appeared full of energy but easy to handle as assistant trainer Nick Galati led him back to his stall.
Wildcat Red is to have a four-furlong workout March 22 and will gallop other mornings prior to the Florida Derby. He was timed in :47 4/5 for a four-furlong workout March 15; it was the 10th fastest of 87 at that distance at Gulfstream that day.
He will be one of the favorites along with General a Rod and Cairo Prince , winner of the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Jan. 25. There is a chance Rontos Racing Stable's Social Inclusion also will be in the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby—whether or not Rontos principal Ronald Sanchez accepts one of several multimillion-dollar offers for the colt.
Social Inclusion set a Gulfstream 1 1/16-mile record of 1:40.97 March 12 in an allowance race. In just his second career start, Social Inclusion led the entire way and defeated prominent 3-year-old Honor Code by 10 lengths in a field of five horses.
Social Inclusion is scheduled for a three-furlong workout March 22 at Gulfstream. Trainer Manny Azpurua said March 19 he and Sanchez will decide later that day whether to run Social Inclusion in the Florida Derby or in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack April 5.
Azpurua declined to comment on the prospect of a sale of Social Inclusion, a Pioneerof the Nile colt.
Sanchez, Azpurua, Rodriguez, Garoffalo, and Wildcat Red's co-owner, Salvatore Delfino, are natives of Venezuela. Josie Martino Delfino, Salvatore Delfino's wife and co-owner of Wildcat Red, is a native of Canada.
The success of their horses at Gulfstream has led to "Venezuela having an interest in (United States) horse racing that we haven't seen in years," Garoffalo said.
For several decades thousands of Venezuelans have owned homes and businesses in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, often spending part of each year in Venezuela and part in Florida. In recent years that investment flow has picked up amid concerns about policies of Venezuela's left-wing government, and one result is that more Venezuelans are buying Thoroughbreds for racing at Gulfstream and Calder Casino & Race Course.
"We are seeing new owners, a lot of good professionals," Garoffalo said.
The Delfinos, who have homes in Caracas and southeast Florida, own a wine distribution company in Florida and the La Montanara restaurant in Aventura, near Gulfstream. Wildcat Red is their second horse in the U.S.; their first, the retired filly Trippi Honor, also was trained by Garoffalo and is the basis for their stable name.
"They will be back here from Venezuela (March 24)," Garoffalo said. "They call every day about the horse."
Wildcat Red was bred in Florida by Morneau International Bloodstock. He was a $30,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. open sale in 2013.
The 85-year-old Azpurua is one of the most popular horsemen in southeast Florida.
"Manny is a great gentleman and a great horseman," Garoffalo said. "My family and his family have been friends for more than 40 years. He deserves to be in the Kentucky Derby picture."
If Social Inclusion runs in the Florida Derby he probably would add more early speed to a mix that includes Wildcat Red and General a Rod.
"Social Inclusion is very fast and could be a great horse, but it is different when a horse has horses next to him the first time and has to taste some dirt," said Garafallo, who believes General a Rod is the horse to beat in the Florida Derby.
"Cairo Prince is a great horse, like General a Rod and our horse," Garoffalo said. "But you don't know how he will be after the two-month layoff."
Garoffalo said Wildcat Red has had time to recover after the Fountain of Youth, given the five-week gap between races.
Wildcat Red's maternal grandsire, Miner's Mark, won the 1 1/4 mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and the 1 1/8 mile Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) in 1993. But attention has focused on the sprint-oriented pedigree of sire D'wildcat.
"There has been talk about his pedigree from the start, but he has proven that he can go two turns," Garoffalo said. "The longer he goes the better he gets. I think he will keep getting better at a mile and an eighth. He loves it here (at Gulfstream). He is a monster here."
John Velazquez will ride Wildcat Red for the first time in the Florida Derby. Luis Saez rode Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth but has been the regular rider for Cairo Prince and has that mount in the Florida Derby. Joel Rosario will ride General a Rod.
The winner of the Florida Derby will earn 100 qualifying points for the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I). Second through fourth will be worth 40, 20, and 10 points, respectively.
Wildcat Red already has 50 points, virtually assuring him a spot in the 20-horse field at Churchill Downs May 3.