Updated on 04/01/2014 8:25AM

Florida Derby: Constitution beats Wildcat Red in thriller

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Barbara D. Livingston
Constitution (right), ridden by Javier Castellano, beats Wildcat Red in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Constitution showed a new dimension while also keeping his record unblemished going into the Kentucky Derby when outfinishing a game Wildcat Red to post a well-deserved neck decision in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Constitution, a son of Tapit owned in partnership by Twin Creeks Racing Stables and WinStar Farm, entered the Florida Derby undefeated in two starts but without any stakes experience. He did not begin his career until Jan. 11, when overcoming a slow start to win a seven-furlong maiden race before returning five weeks later to lead throughout and capture his entry-level allowance condition.

With regular rider Javier Castellano aboard, Constitution was hustled briefly after the start, then taken in hand while drifting out a bit entering the clubhouse turn. It took Castellano nearly a half-mile to get Constitution to relax behind the pace of Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Wildcat Red, who drifted several paths wide on the opening turn before setting a reasonable pace, 1:12.00 for the opening six furlongs, while stalked from the outset by General a Rod.

Wildcat Red shook off General a Rod leaving the final turn while again fanning off the rail under jockey John Velazquez. Castellano seized that opportunity to drive Constitution up along the inside to engage the leader at the top of the stretch. The duo then raced as a team to the wire, with Constitution finally asserting himself in the final yards to prove narrowly best.

General a Rod, who dueled with Wildcat Red nearly from gate to wire before finishing second in the Fountain of Youth, held on willingly once dropping back from that nemesis turning for home, finishing another 1 1/4 lengths back in third.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Cairo Prince, the even-money favorite despite not having raced since his one-sided victory in the Grade 2 Holy Bull in January, launched a bid four wide on the final bend but could not sustain the rally, finishing fourth in a field of eight 3-year-olds.

Constitution, who entered the Grade 1 Florida Derby with no Kentucky Derby qualifying points, picked up 100 for his victory Saturday, punching his ticket to Louisville on May 3. Wildcat Red already was assured a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby by virtue of his win in the Fountain of Youth.  General a Rod also figures to be on his way to Churchill Downs after earning another 20 qualifying points for his third-place finish in the Florida Derby.

The connections of Cairo Prince, which include Godolphin Racing, which purchased a majority interest in the horse following his big win in the Holy Bull, figure to have some anxious moments between now and Derby Day. Cairo Prince picked up 10 points for his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby, giving him a total of 24 points.

The Florida Derby was the fifth win on the day for Castellano and the fourth for trainer Todd Pletcher. The pair combined earlier in the day to capture the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks with In Tune and the Grade 3 Skip Away with Micromanage.

Constitution covered 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:49.16 and paid $8.60 as the second choice in the wagering.

“This horse has come so far in such a short period of time,” Pletcher said. “Everything has fallen into place, and it’s a real tribute to how talented he is. We didn’t really intend to be in the spot he was in early in the race. We’d intended to be where General a Rod was. He proved today he didn’t need to make the lead to win while also getting some dirt in his face and gaining some valuable experience in the process.”      

Wildcat Red’s trainer, Jose Garoffalo, took his second-place finish in stride.

“It was a hell of a race; we couldn’t ask for more,” he said. “We’re going to Kentucky, absolutely. Castellano was very, very smart. He took the rail, and that was the difference. That’s why we lost the race, but he [Wildcat Red] never quit running.”

[Clocker Reports: Get Mike Welsch’s clocker reports from Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows]

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the nine-week layoff could have made a difference for Cairo Prince but that he’s looking forward to having the opportunity to take his horse to Churchill Downs for the Derby.

“[Jockey Luis Saez] took him out at the three-eighths pole like we thought, and he flattened out,” McLaughlin said. “So, maybe the nine weeks was telling on him, maybe the inside was better; it’s hard to say. But we’ll regroup and move on to May 3. If 24 [points] doesn’t get us in, no problem, but we feel like we’ll get in.”

– additional reporting by David Grening

 

          

Scott More than 1 year ago
Nice stretch run! It was fun to watch, but the bottomline is none of these had the look of a serious contender to me. Constitution showed grit and courage, but I just can't get past the breeding and the very slow time of the race. Add in that he doesn't have enough seasoning and the Florida Derby winner just doesn't look a serious contender to me.
CHESTER GILLIS More than 1 year ago
34 AND CHANGE AFTER TWO HARD STAKES RACES COST RED THE FLORIDA DERBY. YA COOKED HIM!!! SHOULDABET
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Here we go again....none of these horses are bred for the 10 furlongs derby. Add in the cavalry charge and the derby is a crapshoot.
ray johns More than 1 year ago
I disagree. You better look more carefully into Tapit's female line.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
who cares? how many open g1 10f and longer do we still card? the met mile is not called the stallion maker for nothing. all we breed are weak fragile bleeding sprinters that need drugs just to run. so let's stop pretending.
Scott More than 1 year ago
Ray, the only way a Tapit bred wins the Derby is if they run the final quarter in 30. LOL! Seriously, Tapit might be the best stallion out there for 9F's, but he's not throwing Classic horses. I'm only half kidding about the walking final quarter for one of them to win.
edb More than 1 year ago
Where are your bred for distance horses? Cairo? Can run all day in 4th. I like the determination of Wildcat and think they didn't have him all out for this race. Didn't need any points and needed the work. Let me know when you find a closer. His wingman, General a Rod, is another stubborn cuss and will give a good showing also.
edb More than 1 year ago
Wildcat Red did nothing wrong in the race, except for John V's ride. I don't think the distance is the question now. Constitution had a perfect trip and looked good in the stalker's role. General ran solid for a slow start. Cairo ran like a short horse and could be the what if horse if he wins the Preakness. Shame about the lack of points, but Shug put all his eggs in one basket and he cracked them. It should not come down to hoping he has enough points. With so much early speed in this year's derby, the draw really looks important. Still so many questions with a month to go.
ray johns More than 1 year ago
The unusually slow pace upfront early, set up the run down the stretch for Wildcat Red and Constitution (two Pletcher charges trained exactly alike) Constitution 's jockey was lucky that the rail opened up just in time to skirt to the inside rail and take advantage of it to hold off Wildcat Red. Obviously, Cairo Prince needed a race after the long lay-off as the off-going(even though rated fast) tired him out ---watch for huge improvement on Kentucky Derby Day if he gets in(Cairo Prince's breeding screams for more ground! That colt can run all day long .
edb More than 1 year ago
IFFFFFFFFFFFF he gets in.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Is this Alyadar and Affirmed again. It would be good for the game. I felt both would bounce from their last battle. I was wrong.
mikey More than 1 year ago
alydar and affirmed...that is about as laughable as the headlines comparing Wise Dan to John Henry...
Hail No More than 1 year ago
His point is still valid, rivalries is a good thing..
Mark D More than 1 year ago
Mcglaughlin simply has never aggressive enough with his horses to win the Derby. He babies them. Which is great for his horses who have long careers....but not the formula to win the Derby.
jeff richardson More than 1 year ago
Johnny V is a Hall of famer, but that was a horrible ride. He rolled out the red carpet and let his main rival by for the win. Unbelievable .I bet Constitution and am grateful, but no way should he have won...
Paul More than 1 year ago
Constitution was in hand. Similar to FOY day. It was more favorable to be inside and the only rider at fault was that of gen a rod for allowing red an easy lead. Otherwise red would've been fourth.
Jon Cohen More than 1 year ago
Did Johnny V. get a breeding right in Constitution before or after The Florida Derby ? Did he learn nothing from his mentor Cordero ? Why didn't he have his stick in his left hand to at least intimidate the other horse in the last 1/8 ? The connections of Wildcat Red and all the bettors that played him to win were victimized and the stewards should be having a conversation with him this morning. Absolutely shameful !!!!!!
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
After getting a 48 second half mile the horse had no excuse, he just wasn't good enough.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Clearly, JR is just riding Todd's 2 to 5 badies who can't loose. I have not seen JR ride hard for 2 years. He was the best in his time, but now, he's just "shipping it in" with poor rides. Why still ride, he's got plenty of money. Maybe Cordero is still pulling the strings. Give it up JR, you just don't ride hard anymore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beginning weekend of the final major derby preps. Shapes opinions on who to bet on kd race day. All for naught though, because the derby race will be fixed by track officials just as soon as the betting closes and the gates open. See where the money is, and where it isnt. Pools payout to bettors about 40% of totals. The other 60% goes to the track and people involved in the show.
michael More than 1 year ago
Mcglaughlin better start his horses more if he wants to win. The new age trainers hope agaonst hope for the KD and have no shot without quality starts.
zkid9914 More than 1 year ago
Pletcher RULES! Hes a real trainer. Constitution's third start off a layoff and WINS. CP overhyped for weeks, people believe the hype. Four wins Sat. for todd, three stakes.