07/22/2014 11:08AM

Wildcat Red tries to cap rags-to-riches tale in Haskell

Bill Denver/Equi-photo
Wildcat Red, working Sunday for the Haskell, was bought for $30,000 as a 2-year-old and has earned $750,000.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Trainer Jose Garoffalo grabbed the gold ring last year when he bought Wildcat Red out of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s June sale of 2-year-olds and horses of racing age for $30,000.

Wildcat Red has since won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 3 Hutcheson, just missed in the Florida Derby, and has earned $750,000. On Sunday, he will be among the top contenders in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

:: Haskell Invitational: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live

“The first day I saw this horse at the track, I knew he was going to be good,” Garoffalo said. “At first, I didn’t know how far he would run, but now he is more focused, more relaxed; he will rate himself. As he developed, I changed the way I trained him. I started giving him longer gallops.”

Garoffalo, 50, is from Caracas, Venezuela. He came to the United States in 1999 and has won more than 340 races. He has a 30-horse stable at Gulfstream Park.

“I am from a family of horse breeders,” he said. “I went to law school but never worked in the law. This is my passion.”

Garoffalo has trained six stakes winners in the United States, including Yara, who won the Grade 2 Davona Dale in 2012. Garoffalo bought her for $24,000 out of the 2011 OBS spring sale of 2-year-olds.

Wildcat Red’s owners, the Honors Stable of Salvatore Delfino and Josie Martino, also have roots in Venezuela. They are “Italians in Venezuela,” Garoffalo explained.

Wildcat Red has made 8 of his 9 starts in Florida. His lone journey outside the Sunshine State came in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 18th. The comment line in his past performances for the Derby reads, “bobbled, bumped start, steady soon after, shuffled 7/8, 5wd, tired.” It is the only time Wildcat Red has finished worse than second.

“Luis Saez was very good in the Derby,” Garoffalo said of the colt’s rider. “When he saw things weren’t going to work out, he didn’t force the horse, and we came out of it okay.”

Wildcat Red had a useful prep for the Haskell in the $90,000 Quality Road Stakes on June 28, when he won by 10 lengths. While a number of other Haskell horses will complete their serious training at their home bases and ship in a few days prior to the race, Garoffalo decided to send Wildcat Red in early and work him at Monmouth.

“He looks a lot better on this track than he did at Churchill,” Garoffalo said. “The track is going to fit him. He is getting a good hold of this track.”

Wildcat Red was calm and professional before, during, and after his Sunday workout. Garoffalo had exercise rider Peter Shelton gallop him a leisurely mile and then work three furlongs. Garoffalo timed him in 36.60 seconds, with a final eighth in 10.80 seconds. Track clockers credited him with a half-mile in 48.80.

Garoffalo, his team, and apparently Wildcat Red are ready for the second half of their dream season to begin.

“He’s a gift for getting us to the Derby,” said assistant trainer Nick Galati, who previously spent summers at Monmouth with trainer Stephen DiMauro.

In a separate conversation, Garoffalo echoed those sentiments.

“The horse is a blessing,” he said.

◗ In addition to Wildcat Red, the Haskell field as of Tuesday morning included the filly Untapable (trainer Steve Asmussen), Bayern (Bob Baffert), Social Inclusion (Manny Azpurua), Medal Count (Dale Romans), Albano (Larry Jones), Irish You Well (Wayne Catalano), Just Call Kenny (Patrick McBurney), and Encryption (Kelly Breen).

◗ The Haskell is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and will be televised live on NBC from 5-6 p.m. Eastern.