Grade 2 hero Wildcat Red completed the Florida portion of his preparation for the $2 million Kentucky Derby on May 3 by working a half-mile in :48 3/5 over Gulfstream Park's fast main track on Sunday.
"He went very nicely, very easy," trainer Jose Garrofalo said. "Luis Saez was up and I got him in :48 and change."
Wildcat Red was reunited with Saez for the first time since they teamed for a front-running victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on February 22. Under a motionless Saez, Wildcat Red breezed the half-mile before galloping out five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.
"He was flying. The good thing was: he got his last eighth in 11-flat," Garoffalo said following the Florida-bred colt's first workout since finishing a close second in the March 29 Florida Derby. "That's all we needed. We don't need anything more than that."
Saez became available to ride Wildcat Red in the first leg of the Triple Crown Saturday, when Cairo Prince was withdrawn with an ankle injury. The 21-year-old rising riding star, who expressed his sadness for Cairo Prince's owners and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, was pleased with Wildcat Red's workout Sunday.
"He's a nice horse. He worked really good," said Saez, who had already been scheduled to ride on Sunday's Easter Day card when Garoffalo gave him a call Saturday. "He seems better now than when I rode him."
Saez, who had ridden Cairo Prince to a dominating triumph in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream on January 18 before his disappointing fifth in the Florida Derby, was always Garoffalo's first choice to ride Wildcat Red. When Cairo Prince qualified on points for the Derby field last week, Garoffalo and Wildcat Red's owner, Honors Stable Corp., turned to Rafael Bejarano earlier in the week, only to make a switch and give the mount to Saez Saturday.
"He's a great rider. He's a smart guy. Remember, he's still such a young guy. He's so mature for his age. All the time, he was my first choice since the Fountain of Youth. But we couldn't get together because he had a commitment to the other horse, Cairo Prince, in the Florida Derby," Garoffalo explained. "Now, he's open, so why not put him on the horse?"
Wildcat Red, who has been no worse than second in seven starts since breaking his maiden by eight lengths at Gulfstream last September 14, has been ridden by five different riders in his last five races.
"This is what I've been trying to do all along -- get a steady rider," Garoffalo noted. "I've been trying to get a rider who'd stay on the horse, but we never did...until now. Now, we have Luis and hopefully everything will work out all right."
Garoffalo said Wildcat Red will walk Monday and ship to Kentucky after walking Tuesday morning. Saez is scheduled to be aboard the bay son of D'wildcat for his final workout before the 140th edition of the Run for the Roses next Saturday or Sunday at Churchill.
"I will be there after the sale in Ocala on Thursday or Friday," Garrofalo remarked. "I will work him there Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather.
"It's very exciting, but at the same time it's a lot of work. You have to take care of every detail," he added. "At this level of competition, you have to be very focused and concentrate on everything, all the small details."
Garoffalo, who is preparing to saddle his first horse for the Derby, will be making his second trip to Churchill Downs, where he saddled Yara for a troubled off-the-board finish in the 2012 Kentucky Oaks.
"That experience is helping me a lot. I think it was a gift of God to give me that experience," he said. "Even though it may not be the same situation, it gave me the experience to handle the situation the next time, which is now, because you know where you're going, you know the track, and you know the environment."
Trainer Todd Pletcher also sent two of his Derby hopefuls out to work in Florida on Sunday. Intense Holiday and We Miss Artie both took to the Palm Meadows' fast dirt in their final Sunshine State moves before the first Saturday in May.
Risen Star victor Intense Holiday was caught in :48 3/5 working a half-mile in company with Micromanage, while Spiral star We Miss Artie clocked five furlongs in 1:01 in company with Capo Bastone.
John Velazquez has the Derby mount on Intense Holiday while Javier Castellano has picked up the call on We Miss Artie.
The duo are expected to join stablemate and Arkansas Derby hero Danza at Churchill Downs on Tuesday. That chestnut son of Street Boss galloped a little more than 1 1/4 miles after the morning renovation break at Churchill on Sunday with exercise rider Nick Bush aboard.
Trainer Mike Maker reported Sunday morning that things were "all well" at the nearby Trackside Training Center for his trio of Kentucky Derby possibilities.
Vicar's in Trouble worked five furlongs on Trackside's fast dirt in 1:00 2/5 Saturday and is scheduled to breeze under the Twin Spires on April 26 along with stablemate Harry's Holiday.
Vicar's in Trouble is exiting an easy 3 1/2-length score in the Louisiana Derby on March 29 at Fair Grounds, while Harry's Holiday missed by just a nose in Turfway Park's Spiral before returning three weeks later to be a well-beaten 13th in the April 12 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
Fellow Maker pupil General a Rod, who has been trading decisions with Wildcat Red down in Florida, is scheduled to work at Churchill Downs on Tuesday or Wednesday. The Roman Ruler colt was third in the Florida Derby in his most recent effort.
In other Derby news:
Ride On Curlin, runner-up to Danza in the Arkansas Derby, galloped after the renovation break at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Bryan Beccia for trainer Billy Gowan on Sunday.
The bay son of Curlin, who arrived at Churchill last Monday, is scheduled to work next Saturday or Sunday depending on weather according to Gowan. Three-time Kentucky Derby-winning rider Calvin Borel has the mount for Derby 140.
Chitu, a 2 1/4-length winner of the Sunland Derby, galloped after the morning renovation break with exercise rider Jorge Alvarez up for trainer Bob Baffert. Following Chitu out was Bayern, who also galloped.
A 15-length allowance scorer prior to finishing third while making his stakes bow in the Arkansas Derby, Bayern stands 24th on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard and would need several defections to gain a spot in the Derby starting gate should his connections opt to enter.
Scheduled to arrive Monday from California for Baffert is Hoppertunity, winner of the Rebel and runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby.
Tapiture galloped Sunday morning and is scheduled to work Monday morning shortly after 6 a.m. (EDT) for trainer Steve Asmussen. The Tapit chestnut put together back-to-back wins in the Kentucky Jockey Club and Southwest before finishing a half-length second in the Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby.
Transylvania hero Medal Count, who returned a week later to be runner-up in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, galloped after the renovation break under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar for trainer Dale Romans.
Commanding Curve, third in the Louisiana Derby in his most recent start, jogged before the renovation break under exercise rider Pedro Velez for trainer Dallas Stewart. The Master Command ridgling stands 22nd on the Derby leaderboard.