Wildcat Red and General a Rod, the one-two finishers in Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, will likely take their nascent rivalry to the next level in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.
Awaiting them in that marquee event at 1 1/8 miles will be Cairo Prince, who sat out the Fountain of Youth following his romp in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on January 25. General a Rod had edged Wildcat Red by a head in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day, but the latter colt turned the tables in their virtual match race in the Fountain of Youth.
"He doesn't have to go to the lead, and he's got a lot of gas if he needs to," Nick Galati, assistant to trainer Jose Garoffalo, said this morning. "Yesterday he was pinned down on the inside and he did have a little disadvantage, but he fought every step of the way. It was a very exciting race. He never gave up. It was a test, and I think he passed with flying colors.
"I couldn't stop watching the replay," Galati added. "How many dozen times? I was doing it at dinner. I was showing anybody that walked by. It was very exciting. That's why we get up in the morning, for something like him. He's like a dream come true."
Owned by Honors Stable Corp., Wildcat Red has made all six of his career starts at Gulfstream. He drew off stylishly in the Hutcheson three weeks ago to score by 4 3/4 lengths, and the Fountain of Youth marked his first attempt around two turns.
"He ate up and everything was fine," Galati continued. "He came out perfect. He was full of himself and very, very happy. He'll be laying down today. He relaxes. There's just something about him, he does everything right. We're very happy with the way he came out of the race."
A son of D'wildcat, Wildcat Red will attempt to stretch his speed in the Florida Derby in five weeks' time. He and General a Rod were separated by a head at the wire, with stretch-running favorite Top Billing winding up two lengths behind them in third.
"(Jose is) going to make the inevitable decision, but today I don't see any reason to have anything other than positives about the way he ran and the way he came out of his race," Galati said. "We are all very, very happy.
"(Top Billing), I guess the track bias was his excuse, but he ran his race. The other horse (General a Rod), he's legit. He was one of the better-looking ones in the race and I thought he was the one to watch anyway. He was a fresh horse. (Trainer Todd) Pletcher's horse (Commissioner) just didn't fire, but he looked great, too. It was a legit bunch. Like we said, it was a test."
General a Rod cooled out well after the Fountain of Youth, according to trainer Mike Maker.
"He came out of the race just fine," Maker said. "Everything was great, he just came out of it on the losing end. He didn't show us anything that he didn't show us before; he just came out of it on the losing end. We're still undecided (about his next start). There's a lot of races out there, so we're just going to take our time and make a decision."
The Fountain of Youth offered Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 50-20-10-5 to the first four finishers. East Hall, previously third in the Gulfstream Park Derby, outran his 72-1 odds to round out the superfecta in the Fountain of Youth and could get another crack at the winner in the Florida Derby.
"East Hall is officially on the Derby trail because he got five points," trainer Bill Kaplan confirmed. "I'm very proud of his performance. He gained a length on even Top Billing in the stretch, and he got the jump on us a little earlier. But he ran a superstar race, and he was still running at the end. He came back fresh, and he's doing fine. There was a discussion of maybe scratching from the 13 hole, but we decided to hang in there and it worked out good.
"The top two horses ran all the way up front, and Top Billing and he came from last and next-to-last against a speed-favoring track," Kaplan continued. "I was very pleased with my horse's performance. Everything in our mind is looking toward the mile and a quarter in May. This sets up nice for it."