Jose Garoffolo knew Wildcat Red had potential from the moment he laid eyes on him at the Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s sale last June.
“When you buy a horse and you like the horse and he shows you some talent, you never know how far he can go,” Garoffolo said on a teleconference Tuesday. “That one was the very first time I saw him, [and] I knew he was going to be a decent horse.”
Garoffolo paid $30,000 for the horse, and the results speak for themselves. Wildcat Red has crossed the finish line first in four races but was disqualified from the Juvenile Sprint Stakes and placed second. His sole loss came in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day when General a Rod beat him by a head at the line.
Now the 3-year-old will face his biggest test when he lines up in the Grade II Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream on Saturday. The 13-horse field includes some of the most talented 3-year-olds in the nation and is the beginning of a 10-week campaign to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s a very sound horse,” Garoffolo said in a phone interview Friday. “All we need to know is if he can go longer. If he handles the two turns, then we can start thinking about going to Kentucky.”
Wildcat Red’s pedigree suggests he would be better as a sprinter, as the son of the champion D’wildcat, and his speed confirms that notion. He has the two highest Beyer speed ratings of the entrants Saturday, a 96 for his win in the Hutcheson earlier this month and a 92 for his near miss in the Gulfstream Park Derby.
Garoffolo said the horse has trained well at longer distances in preparation for the mile and sixteenth he will need to cover Saturday. He originally planned to run the horse in the Holy Bull last month, but an infection kept Wildcat Red out.
The trainer said he was concerned about what could be a logjam at the front with three or four horses attempting to set the pace, which often leads to a quick first half-mile and tires out the leaders. He added he has been focusing on trying to keep his horse calm so he doesn’t have to use too much energy in the early parts of the race.
“We’ve been working on relaxing the horse,” Garoffolo said Friday. “If he can control his pace and he can relax, the better it’s going to be for him. The slower the pace, the better.”
This weekend is the first of the 50-point races in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, a points system to determine the 20 entrants into the race. The winner of Saturday’s race will receive 50 points, which will almost assuredly earn them a spot in the first leg of the Triple Crown. The runner-up will get 20 points, third collects 10 and the fourth-place finisher picks up five.