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Florida Derby top three doing well, headed for rematch in Kentucky

  • L to R: General a Rod, Wildcat Red and Constitution (Adam Coglianese Photography)

Constitution emerged from his gutsy victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in good order, trainer Todd Pletcher reported.

"He came out of (the Florida Derby) really well. He returned home to Palm Meadows this morning and seemed to be in good shape," Pletcher said Sunday afternoon while being honored as the leading trainer Gulfstream's Champions Meet for the 11th consecutive year.

Now undefeated in three career starts, all coming during Gulfstream Park's Champions Meet, Constitution saved ground behind pacesetter Wildcat Red before slipping through an opening along the rail turning for home and going on to win a stretch battle with the Fountain of Youth winner by a neck.

The Kentucky-bred colt was making his stakes debut in the Florida Derby, while running 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 under Javier Castellano, who was honored Sunday for winning his third consecutive Champions Meet jockey title in a row.

"He's a horse that has progressed a lot over the winter. He broke his maiden in January, won an allowance in February and he won the Florida Derby in just his third start -- that's pretty impressive," said Pletcher, who trains the son of Tapit for the partnership of Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm.

Constitution will continue to train for Triple Crown at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. For how long has yet to be determined.

"I'm not a 100 percent sure yet. I'm thinking about 12 days before. I'd like to have one work at Churchill," Pletcher explained. "I'll just have to see how the weather is here and how the weather is there. I'll have to see how things go about flight arrangements and things like that."

A stubborn runner-up in the Florida Derby, Florida-bred Wildcat Red will remain at Gulfstream Park to prepare for his next start as well.

Trainer Jose Garoffalo said Sunday morning he will point the Grade 2 victor to the first leg of the Triple Crown on May 3 at Churchill Downs after his neck loss to Constitution.

"It was kind of bittersweet, but good. We're happy with the horse," Garoffalo stated. "The horse did his job. We trained the horse to win the race, but races are races. You can either win or lose. But the horse showed that he can go longer, and proved to a lot of people that they were wrong. In a way, there are a lot of positive points.

"We still have to evaluate the horse. We'll give him two or three days to check how the horse is doing, but according to the way he came back everything seems that we're going to go to Louisville."

Wildcat Red has four wins and three seconds in seven starts, all at Gulfstream Park, including the seven-furlong Hutcheson and 8 1/2-furlong Fountain of Youth.

Garoffalo is not concerned about shipping the son of Grade 1-winning sprinter D'wildcat or running on a new track.

"We're going to be there maybe a week before and let the horse adapt to the track," he said. "He's the kind of horse that can run on any track. I'm not afraid of the track or if he's going to handle it. We will give him the opportunity to know the track. We're probably going to work here and we'll only gallop there. He's a smart horse."

Purchased for $30,000 last June, Wildcat Red has now banked $690,850 for Garoffalo and owner Honors Stable Corp., neither of whom have had a Triple Crown starter.

"He is a monster," Garoffalo declared. "He's the kind of horse that you don't see too often. He's got the heart, he's got the guts. He's amazing. He's a once-in-a-lifetime horse."

While Constitution and Wildcat Red remain in Florida for now, General a Rod left Gulfstream Park early Sunday morning on a flight back to trainer Mike Maker's base in Kentucky, where he will continue on the Triple Crown trail.

The Roman Ruler colt emerged from his third-place finish in the Florida Derby in good shape according to Maker's assistant Elesar Chavez.

Maker flew back to Kentucky after saddling Vicar's In Trouble to a win the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Vicar's In Trouble did his final work for the Fair Grounds race at Gulfstream.

"He came back really good," Chavez said of General a Rod. "He came back like it was nothing. He was fine. I talked to Mike this morning and told him the horse came back really good, but he needed a little bit more teaching of how to pass the other horses. Mike said he was happy to be third, the way the horse ran."

Winner of the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day and second in the February 22 Fountain of Youth to Wildcat Red, General a Rod dueled with that rival through six furlongs in 1:12 before giving way in the Florida Derby. He was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Constitution, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of multiple Grade 2 winner and 6-5 favorite Cairo Prince.

General a Rod has raced once previously at Churchill Downs, finishing second to Conquest Titan in a one-mile, entry-level allowance on November 30.

"He beat some nice horses," Chavez said. "I asked Mike what he thought and he said he proved he could run, and he's going to make a couple changes so he can run better next time. He said if everything is well, he is going to go on to the next one." 

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