by Jim Freer
Thursday, March 27th — The highly touted Cairo Prince and the familiar rivals Wildcat Red and General a Rod will head an eight-horse field in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby (Grade 1) at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida.
Cairo Prince was made the 9-5 morning line favorite by Gulfstream handicapper and line-maker Ron Nicoletti following Wednesday’s post position draw, which I attended.
Wildcat Red is listed at 3-1 and General a Rod is 7-2.
Spot, Constitution, East Hall, Matador and Allstar are the remaining horses in the field.
The 1 1/8 mile stakes for 3-year-olds is a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby on May 3rd. The Florida Derby will be Cairo Prince’s first race since Jan. 25 when he won the 1- 1/16 mile Holy Bull (Grade 2) at Gulfstream.
He has won three of his four career starts, and is among the top three on most racing analysts’ lists of Kentucky Derby contenders. Kiaran McLaughlin trains Cairo Prince. Luis Saez, who has ridden the colt in all of his previous starts, has the mount.
Wildcat Red and General a Rod have raced twice atGulfstream this year, and have a split in two photo finishes after lengthy stretch duels. On Jan. 1st, General a Rod won by a head in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby.
On Feb. 22nd, Wildcat Red won by a head in the 1-1/16 mile Fountain of Youth (Grade 2). Jose Garoffalo trains Wildcat Red and has John Velazquez riding on Saturday. Mike Maker trains General a Rod, who will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
Wildcat Red and General a Rod have early speed. So does Constitution, who is unbeaten in two starts and making his stakes debut. Cairo Prince probably will be stalking a fast pace.
Post positions could be very important, because of the speed factor and the distance of only about 100 yards from the starting gate to the bend at the first turn. Wildcat Red has the rail post. With Velazquez riding, he should be able to get a clean break from the gate and have an inside trip.Cairo Prince has post three, Constitution has post four and General a Rod has post six.
“We will be outside the speed, and that gives ussome options,” Maker said of possible tactics.
The Florida Derby will be the 14th and final race on Gulfstream’s Saturday card, with a scheduled post time of 6:48 p.m. Gulfstream will have seven other stakes races also.
The Florida Derby will be telecast live on the NBC Sports cable channel.