02/22/2014 7:26PM

Gulfstream Park: Wildcat Red wins thrilling edition of Fountain of Youth Stakes

Tom Keyser
Wildcat Red (right) and jockey Luis Saez win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes by a head over General a Rod and jockey Javier Castellano on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Wildcat Red looks like a sprinter, and he certainly has brilliant sprinter’s speed. That speed, utilized to its fullest over a track kind to his style, helped propel him to victory at Gulfstream Park on Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, whose thrilling stretch drive will be overshadowed by debate over how big a role the track played in the outcome.

Wildcat Red and General a Rod went like Jaipur and Ridan from the start of the race and set sharp fractions of 23.03 seconds, 46.25, and 1:10.13 for the first six furlongs. And they slugged it out all the way to the wire, with Wildcat Red winning by a head over General a Rod in 1:41.85 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track.

It was difficult all day for horses to make up ground, so the third-place finish by the favored Top Billing, who rallied from last in the 12-horse field, was meritorious. He finished two lengths behind General a Rod.

East Hall was fourth and was followed by Medal Count, Commissioner, Our Caravan, We Miss Artie, Best Plan Yet, C. Zee, Almost Famous, and Hesinfront.

Wildcat Red ($11) was the fourth choice in the field. He was coming off an eye-catching victory in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 1. The Fountain of Youth was his first try around two turns. He has won four times in six starts, with two seconds, with every start coming at Gulfstream.

Victory in the Fountain of Youth was worth 50 points under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 3 Kentucky Derby, and that amount should be more than enough to get into the field.

“We proved that we were right, that the horse could get the distance,” said Jose Garoffalo, who trains Wildcat Red for the Honors Stable Corp. of Josie Delfino. “Now, we can think seriously about the Derby.”

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

Before that, though, Wildcat Red will run here in next month’s Florida Derby. He was ridden by Luis Saez in the Fountain of Youth but might need a new rider for the Florida Derby since Saez rides Cairo Prince, who won the Holy Bull Stakes last month and is the early favorite for the Florida Derby.

The track favored horses on or near the lead all day, and it was difficult for late-running horses to rally. However, the tenacity of Wildcat Red cannot be disputed. He was hounded by General a Rod, even was headed at one point, and would not surrender.

Wildcat Red and General a Rod had a similar battle in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, with General a Rod winning by a head.

“The race was a copy of the last one, the Gulfstream Park Derby, but this time I got lucky, and I beat him,” Garoffalo said.

Garoffalo purchased Wildcat Red, a colt by D’Wildcat, for just $30,000 as a 2-year-old in training through the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. last year.

“I go to the sales with a limited budget,” Garoffalo said. “I liked everything about the horse – the way he breezed, his athletic body, and, more than anything, his attitude. I got lucky that he exactly fit the budget.”

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

Had General a Rod won the race, he would have given jockey Javier Castellano his seventh win on the card, which would have tied the Gulfstream Park record set by Jerry Bailey in 1995.

Top Billing was making his stakes debut after winning twice in three starts, including in allowance company here Jan. 25.

“I thought he ran good,” said Shug McGaughey, who trains Top Billing. “We ended up inside, saving ground and coming around the turn. I thought we had them. I knew we had the rest of them, and they kept running, and I think those were two pretty nice horses, too – especially the winner.

“The racetrack has been carrying speed for a while, and we were the only one finishing. I’m pleased with what I saw. I think we’ll stay here for the Florida Derby if things go right. He’s run good over this track. I was disappointed he didn’t win, but it was a good effort and an effort I think we can go ahead on.”

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch