03/24/2014 12:04PM

Gulfstream Park: General a Rod shows poise in final major work for Florida Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
General a Rod worked five furlongs in 1:01.14 on Sunday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – General a Rod turned down the backstretch shortly after the renovation break Sunday, making his way to the five-furlong marker to begin his final major prep for Saturday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby. But as he reached the pole, the Fountain of Youth Stakes runner-up suddenly found himself with some unexpected company, as he was joined by a member of the Gamaliel Vazquez stable.

What was scheduled to be a solo and easy five-eighths maintenance work for General a Rod turned into something else altogether. But the good-looking 3-year-old kept his poise, breezing alongside his workmate without incident. After going off his opening eighth in 11.48 seconds, General a Rod came to hand nicely, completing the distance in 1:01.14 while never extended before galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.65.

General a Rod will go postward among the choices in what figures to be a compact lineup for the Florida Derby. Only six 3-year-olds are confirmed for the race, which offers a purse of $1 million and 170 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. The other likely starters are Wildcat Red, who narrowly defeated General a Rod in the Fountain of Youth, Holy Bull winner Cairo Prince, the undefeated Constitution, Swale Stakes winner Spot, and maiden winner Matador.

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

“He picked up some unexpected company, but he’s very professional, he handled it really well,” said Mike Maker, who trains General a Rod. “I was a little concerned he might go a little too fast working with the other horse. But like I said, he’s such a professional and a push-button kind of horse that it didn’t affect him at all.”

General a Rod wound up contesting all the pace with Wildcat Red before coming out on the short end of a head decision in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth. In his previous start, he was able to rate just off the leaders before rallying to a head verdict over Wildcat Red in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby.

“He’s a very big, good-looking horse with dapples about this big around from head to toe,” Maker said, raising his hands to form a shape the size of a silver dollar. “And he can adapt to any situation he has to. At the moment, I believe he’s the best Derby prospect I’ve had, especially since he handles the dirt so well, better than some of my other ones. He just looks like the whole package to me.”

One potential addition to the Florida Derby lineup, East Hall, worked five furlongs here Monday. With jockey Juan Leyva aboard, East Hall, a son of Graeme Hall trained by Bill Kaplan, breezed in 1:01.98, completing his final quarter with the aid of a strong tailwind in 24.07 seconds before galloping out six panels in 1:15.13.

East Hall is coming off an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby. He finished a late-running fourth against the grain of a speed-favoring track, 6 1/2 lengths behind Wildcat Red, in the Fountain of Youth.

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

“I missed a few days of training with him after the race at Tampa due to a minor issue, but he’s doing fine, and I thought he looked great coming down the stretch this morning,” Kaplan said. “Right now, I’m not committing to anything. If the Florida Derby was to come up a six-horse field, we might decide to run. Our other options for him are the Calder Derby [April 5] or the Blue Grass [April 12]. I’ll just wait and see what develops over the next couple of days.”

Entries for the Florida Derby and Saturday’s entire 14-race program will be drawn Wednesday.