The lightly-raced Constitution will head to the May 3 Kentucky Derby undefeated after posting a game victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
The 3-1 second choice in a field of eight three-year-olds in Saturday's 1 1/8-mile feature, Constitution enjoyed a ground-saving stalking trip under Javier Castellano as Fountain of Youth winner Wildcat Red set fractions of :24, :48 and 1:12. When the pacesetter left the rail open turning for home, Constitution slipped through and won a stretch-long duel over that rival by a neck in a time of 1:49 over a fast track.
"At the three-eighths pole I thought I'd have to go around two horses (Wildcat Red and General a Rod)," Castellano said. "But one thing, it was kind of early and second, I was going to lose a lot of ground. I just took my shot and it worked out great."
Owned by WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, the Todd Pletcher trainee returned $8.60 to win and assured himself a starting position in the Churchill Downs starting gate by earning 100 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series.
Wildcat Red, who was found wanting only in the final yards, held second by 1 1/4 lengths over General a Rod, and the connections of both colts expressed they would also move on to the Kentucky Derby. Cairo Prince and longshots East Hall, Matador, Spot, and Allstar completed the order of finish.
The disappointment of the race was 6-5 favorite Cairo Prince, the Holy Bull winner, who failed to muster a rally in the stretch and finished fourth, 2 1/4 lengths behind General a Rod. With two more weeks of major preps remaining, Cairo Prince sits precariously in 16th place on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 24 points.
"We're obviously disappointed," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He flattened out late. He looked like he got there and in the clear, which is what he likes and he just flattened out. So, it's disappointing, but we'll look to carry on and go on to the Derby and hope that we regroup and he rebounds from this effort.
"Maybe the nine weeks (off) was telling on him, maybe the inside was better, it's hard to say, but we'll regroup and move on to May 3. (Jockey Luis Saez) just said that he got there and flattened out a little bit. He's fine, he just didn't fire like he did last time. If 24 (points) don't get us in, then we don't go to Kentucky. We feel like we'll get in and if we don't, we won't."
Constitution will attempt to win the Kentucky Derby off only three career starts, a feat accomplished most recently by Big Brown, who captured the 2008 Florida Derby en route to his triumph in Louisville. Unlike Big Brown, however, Constitution, did not race as a two-year-old, and no horse that was unraced as a juvenile has won the Kentucky Derby in more than 130 years.
A stalk-and-pounce maiden winner over seven furlongs at Gulfstream on January 11, Constitution followed up that one-length victory with a wire-to-wire score against allowance foes on February 22. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles on the Fountain of Youth undercard, the son of Tapit came home impressively to win by 3 1/4 lengths. His career earnings are now $649,350.
"I'm very, very proud of him," Pletcher said. "It's a testament to the quality of horse he is -- to go from a maiden to an allowance to a Grade 1 and to show a different running style and get some dirt in his face and put in an effort like that against much more seasoned horses. It was a huge effort."
Bred in Kentucky by Grapestock LLC and Fox Hill Farm, Constitution was a $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. He was produced by the stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Baffled, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Emcee, stakes winner Spring Party, and the Group 2-placed Surfer. This is the family of Grade 1 winners Awesome Humor and All Fired Up.