Cairo Prince has been made the 9-5 favorite in Saturday's Besilu Stables Florida Derby and will face seven others in the million-dollar race.
After Cairo Prince, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, registered his third victory in four starts in the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 25, McLaughlin decided to bypass the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth Stakes and train the Kentucky-bred colt up to Gulfstream’s signature race.
McLaughlin says he is expecting the exact same Cairo Prince that won the Holy Bull to show up.
“I don’t want to see any changes. I don’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,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t want to see any changes. Changes would be negative. He couldn’t be doing any better.
“We have a great team of help. But more importantly, I’m going to say it’s more about the horses,” McLaughlin said. “Every day of training is important. We get a lot of miles in, but I don’t feel like we do anything different from anyone else off the layoff. It’s spotting them well in races, and it’s the horse. It’s important to have the right horse.”
Despite his impressive record, Cairo Prince is not assured of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. He has 14 points. He will need a victory, a second-place finish or perhaps a third or a fourth to be assured of making it to Louisville.
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. Last year, the first year of the points system, the last horse to get in had 10 points.
McLaughlin is critical of any system that leaves no discretion to racing officials.
“I don’t care what system they use, they’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 don’t have enough points,” said McLaughlin.“The Breeders’ Cup does it. It works fine.
“What if Cairo Prince drops the rider warming up and scratches? He should be in the Derby," McLaughlin continued, "but we only have 14 points. There’s no safeguard. They want us in there because he’s one of the best horses.”
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.
“I think it’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,” Garoffalo said. “I’m not worried about the extra half of a furlong in the race – that’s going to be in the favor of my horse.”
John Velazquez is scheduled to ride Wildcat Red, rated second at 3-1 in the morning line, for the first time.
“I feel it’s going to be a tough race, but the horse has been training very good and the horse has been feeling very good,” Garoffalo said. “There is no reason not to be confident.”
General a Rod’s trainer, Mike Maker, said longer distances will only help the son of Roman Ruler, who was rated third at 7-2 in the morning line.
“You guys haven’t seen it yet but I think his best asset is going to be his tactical speed,” Maker said. “He’s got a high cruising speed, and I think you’ll see the true General a Rod once the distances increase. He was always a good-looking horse that made an impression right away as soon as he stepped into the barn. He has never disappointed us.”
Joel Rosario, who was aboard for General a Rod's 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 son of Tapit is rated fourth in the morning line at 4-1.
Pletcher knows it's unusual for a horse to go this route off of only two career starts.
“It takes a very talented, quality horse to do that. It’s something that we don’t often try. We only do it with horses that we feel like merit that type of consideration,” said Pletcher.
“He’s been perfect so far. Both of his races have been very good. He showed heart and determination in his first race when he didn’t break well. His second race went as we planned. He’s a horse that always trained like he’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.”
Leading meet rider Javier Castellano has the return mount on Constitution.
Spot, the upset winner of the Swale Stakes for trainer Nick Zito, sat off the pace before making a sweeping move to the lead and upsetting heavily favored No Nay Never by 2 1/2 lengths.
Zito, who has named Corey Lanerie to ride, said he has witnessed Spot continue to blossom in his training since his impressive Swale victory. He's an 8-1 morning line.
“I’ve been in enough of these things to know that you need to get good at the right time,” said Zito, who has saddled three Florida Derby winners: High Fly (2005), Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011).
Matador , a late-running colt who finished fourth in the Sam F. Davis and fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby, will add blinkers for 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 will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
East Hall, a late-closing third in the Gulfstream Derby and fourth in the Fountain of Youth, finished a disappointing eighth in the Tampa Bay Derby. He's set at 20-1 in the morning line. Trainer Bill Kaplan named Juan Leyva to ride the son of Graeme Hall.
Allstar, a surprise entry, is a recent allowance winner at Calder and is 30-1 in the morning line.
The Florida Derby will anchor a 12-race program with eight stakes, including seven graded, and more than $2 million in purses. Broadcast coverage will be on NBC Sports Network from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m ET.
Edited Gulfstream Park release
Grade I Florida Derby
1 1/8 Mile
Post Time: 6:48
|1||Wildcat Red (FL)||3-1||J. Velazquez||C||122||J. Garoffalo|
|2||Matador (ON)||15-1||J. Leparoux||C||122||M. Casse|
|3||Cairo Prince (KY)||9-5||L. Saez||C||122||K. McLaughlin|
|4||Constitution (KY)||4-1||J. Castellano||C||122||T. Pletcher|
|5||East Hall (FL)||20-1||J. Leyva||G||122||W. Kaplan|
|6||General a Rod (KY)||7-2||J. Rosario||C||122||M. Maker|
|7||Allstar (KY)||30-1||O. Bocachica||C||122||M. Vitali|
|8||Spot (KY)||8-1||C. Lanerie||G||122||N. Zito|
All will run with Lasix