When Wildcat Red takes his place in the starting gate Saturday for the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, he will carry the hopes of a pair of small-scale operations on the road to the Triple Crown.
The Florida-bred son of D'wildcat was purchased for just $30,000 last June as a two-year-old in training at OBS, and has already bankrolled $490,850 for the Honors Stable Corp. of Salvatore Delfino and Josie Martino. He is only the third racehorse campaigned by the couple, and the three-year-old also represents a triumph for Xavier Moreau, whose Moreau Bloodstock International bred the colt in partnership with Winter Racing Enterprise.
Moreau previously experienced success as a breeder with Bushfire, a filly who swept a trio of prestigious Grade 1 races -- the Ashland, Acorn and Mother Goose -- in 2006 and finishing third in that year's Kentucky Oaks.
"She was exceptional," Moreau said. "I buy some mares for my clients, but I am a small breeder. She was athletic and beautiful; that was the only filly I ever wanted to keep and race, but my partner said no."
Bushfire, who earned more than $800,000 on the track for owners Ron and Ricki Rashinski, later sold as a broodmare prospect for $1.85 million to Shadai Farm in Japan.
Wildcat Red has been nearly perfect in his six career starts to date, and has rewarded Moreau's perseverance in the bloodstock business.
"It's a great story because there are a lot of wealthy people in the sport that buy horses for millions of dollars, but here you have a small breeder like me who has modest horses," Moreau noted. "It gives the smaller people a chance to think that they have a chance to win the big races, too."
Under the tutelage of trainer Jose Garoffalo, Wildcat Red dashed across the finish line first in his initial three starts. He was disqualified from victory in Gulfstream's Juvenile Sprint on November 9 and missed by a head to General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day.
Though forced to miss an intended class with Florida Derby favorite Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull, the bay colt made amends by drawing off in the Hutcheson on February 1, and turned the tables on General a Rod when they battled every step in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream three weeks later.
Moreau and his daughter Natalie gave Wildcat Red his early education before turning him over to Danzel Brendemuehl of Classic Bloodstock just before his date in the auction ring nine months ago. The colt's temperament has served him well in his career thus far.
"He was not mean, but during the whole time that we were breaking him, he was always trying to bite us," Moreau recalled. "He did not like anyone going into his stall and could corner you in there -- he was that kind of colt. He was very playful and always had something in mind, but he was never a problem to us. He was a very easy horse to train. He was very la-di-da."
Wildcat Red's sire D'wildcat was a talented sprinter whose best offspring to date was D' Funnybone, whose five stakes victories included the 2010 editions of the Hutcheson and Swale. The Florida Derby hopeful was produced by the mare Racene, a daughter of Miner's Mark whose career-best effort came when third in the 11-furlong Yerba Buena Handicap on the turf in 2002.
"The mother is a very sweet mare, very easy-going, and well-balanced," Moreau explained. "I like mares that have shown performance, and she was a good racemare on the West Coast. She was stocky and well-muscled. (Wildcat Red) is stocky himself; he's not small. I'm not sure how much he's grown since last year, but I'm sure he's much bigger now. I thought he would become 16 hands or so."
Moreau purchased Racene for $30,000 in 2004 when the mare was carrying her first foal. Moreau sold all of her subsequent offspring as yearlings, but opted to hang onto Wildcat Red until his juvenile season.
"Because of the way the commercial market is, he wasn't correct enough to sell as a yearling, and I thought it would be better to just sell him as a two-year-old," Moreau explained. "So my partner and I decided to wait, because even though he was offset when he was young, he was strong and had good bone. Sometimes I buy weanlings to sell them as yearlings, but they have to be very correct because you won't be able to sell them if they're not -- that is the way the commercial market is. We tried to combine the balance of the mare with the height of the stallion."
Wildcat Red had some delays ahead of his auction date. The colt recorded a one-furlong breeze in :10 2/5 at the Ocala, Florida, complex, and Moreau and partners were satisfied with the $30,000 final price.
"A few weeks before the sale he came back from the track with a big ankle," Moreau explained. "We worked on it before the auction, so he only had time to breeze once before he went to OBS.
"People sometimes made fun of the horse because he was so la-di-da and calm at the sale," the Frenchman added. "He was a little offset in the knees, but as his chest got bigger, I think his conformation got better. They change a lot when they grow.
"He toed out a little and with his knees, and I thought he was not going to be the best mover at the sale. But the more we asked him to do, the more we did with him, his action got better and better. At first it was not obvious, but the way he gallops and, when he really extends himself, it's quite different. He's very strong and gallant."
Moreau will finally get a chance to see how his star graduate has progressed next weekend.
"I really wanted to come to Miami for his last race, the Fountain of Youth, but I couldn't make it," the horseman said. "So I am very excited to go see him in the Florida Derby."