Wildcat Red has been ridden by five different jockeys in his last five races at Gulfstream Park while establishing himself as a prominent Triple Crown contender. Rafael Bejarano is slated to become number six.
After watching how things unfolded in last weekend's major prep races and considering his options, trainer Jose Garoffalo decided to go with Southern California's most dominant jockey for a run in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.
Wildcat Red had been ridden by Edgard Zayas, Paco Lopez, Javier Castellano and Luis Saez, in that order, before finishing second under John Velazquez in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.
Garoffalo had been waiting to find out if Saez would become available to return aboard the multiple stakes-winning colt that he had guided to victory in the Fountain of Youth on February 22. However, Saez had committed to ride Cairo Prince, who became eligible for the first leg of the Triple Crown on points last weekend when the dirt and Polytrack settled after the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass last weekend.
"The very next day after the Florida Derby, Bejarano called me and told me he wanted to ride the horse. I put him on standby until this week," said Garoffalo, who had a conversation with Gary Stevens' agent before the Hall of Fame jockey opted to ride Candy Boy. "When we found the other riders were busy, I called him and set the deal. He's a great rider."
Bejarano has ridden the winners of more than 3,200 races and $155 million in purses, but is winless in eight Derby mounts. The 32-year-old native of Peru has two on-the-board finishes in Triple Crown races, finishing second in the 2005 Belmont aboard Andromeda's Hero and third on Sunriver in the 2006 Belmont.
In seven starts, all at Gulfstream, Wildcat Red has won four races, including the Fountain of Youth and the Hutcheson, and lost the other three starts by a pair of heads and a disqualification to account for three second-place finishes.
"He's a fighter," Garoffalo said. "He has versatility. He can run anywhere."
Wildcat Red is scheduled to breeze at Gulfstream on Friday before shipping to Churchill Downs on April 22 and have his final prep the following Friday.
"We're trying to get together and see if he can stop by Churchill for a day or two and breeze the horse," Garoffalo said. "I would like it to work out that way, but, if not, it's not necessary. This horse is an easy ride."
Garoffalo expressed total satisfaction with Wildcat Red's development and training since the Florida Derby, in which he set the pace before being headed by Constitution.
"He's getting better with every race. He's getting more mature and stronger and more focused with every race," he said. "The more he's doing the better he feels."