Unable to make an expected start in the Holy Bull last weekend at Gulfstream Park, trainer Jose Garoffalo has gone to Plan B with Wildcat Red.
Runner-up in the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day after dueling with General A Rod, Wildcat Red will cut back to seven furlongs for the Grade 2, $200,000 Hutcheson, which shares Saturday's card with the $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint.
A minor illness was discovered on the day entries were taken for the Holy Bull, forcing Garoffalo to alter his plans. Looking to stretch Wildcat Red around two turns, he hopes to use the Hutcheson as a springboard to either or both of the Grade 2, $400,000 Fountain of Youth on February 22 and the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.
"I'm running in this race because we had to skip the last one," Garoffalo explained. "That's the option we have. The horse ran a month ago, so he needs the race.
"I'm still thinking to take the horse around two turns. I'm going to use this race to keep the horse in shape and make sure the horse is ready to go longer, and it's a good race. He fits pretty good, and the distance is an intermediate distance so we can go longer with him."
Wildcat Red has been first across the line in three of his four starts, all at Gulfstream. He broke his maiden in September and won an entry-level allowance one month later before his stakes debut in the November 9 Juvenile Sprint for Florida-breds. He won that 6 ½-furlong contest by 1 ¼ lengths but was disqualified to second for bearing out in deep stretch.
In his three-year-old debut, Wildcat Red dueled with General A Rod from the gate and wound up a head short at the wire. Garoffalo is not concerned with the cutback, particularly since his sire, D'wildcat, was a Grade 1-winning sprinter.
"For him, it's not going to be a problem. He can do it," Garoffalo asserted. "It's a good distance for him. We're going to use the race as a step for the next races."
Two-time defending riding champion and current meet leader Javier Castellano will be aboard Wildcat Red for the first time in the Hutcheson. The recently minted Eclipse Award-winning jockey was up for a three-furlong blowout in :36 ⅕ on January 26.
"That's like a guarantee when you put him on. You give yourself a better chance," Garoffalo added. "He gets along better with the horse, so let's do it. We're ready."
Fourth as the favorite in the Gulfstream Park Derby, Pablo Del Monte also returns in the Hutcheson. He is trained and co-owned by Wesley Ward, who also handled the colt's mother, One Hot Wish.
"I was hoping he would go further," Ward said, "but his mother was a sprinter, so we'll shorten him up a little bit and he should be good."
The Gulfstream Park Derby was the first try on dirt for Pablo Del Monte, who won twice on Polytrack to open his career and was fifth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Generous on Hollywood Park's grass.
"He ran good," Ward said of his last race. "He got a little compromised there in the first part of the race and had to kind of check and go around. He came running late and didn't really get into it. I was happy with the effort. I think seven-eighths will be a little better for him."
Trail Blaze and Vinceremos will each be making their graded debut in the Hutcheson for trainer Todd Pletcher. An impressive maiden winner at Aqueduct on November 20, Trail Blaze came back to be fourth in the Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream fourth weeks ago after a slow start.
"It was disappointing," Pletcher said of the race. "He came back and trained well, so we've got to draw a line through it and try again."
Cross-entered in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Sam. F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, Vinceremos has run twice at Gulfstream Park, finishing second in his debut on November 30 before breaking his maiden by a head going one mile on January 4 despite having to steady at the sixteenth-pole.
"We're kind of in that mode where I think he still needs to learn something," Pletcher stated. "When he made the lead the other day he kind of balked a little bit and moved over to the rail and lost his momentum. The other horse engaged him and he came back on again. I think he's still a work in progress. He's a talented colt who's still figuring out the game a little bit."
Also entered for the Hutcheson are Mighty Brown, winner of the Pasco two back on January 4; Spectacular Bid runner-up C. Zee; Long On Value, sixth in the Champagne in his most recent start; Tashir, a 9 ½-length allowance winner going seven furlongs at Calder on January 17; and last-out romping maiden winners Spot and Gambler's Ghost.
One race before the Hutcheson, 11 will head to the gate for the five-furlong Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint. Tightend Touchdown was beaten by just a half-length by back-to-back winner Mizdirection in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in his last appearance, but could be using Saturday's race as a tightener.
"I don't think he's back to himself. I haven't been thrilled with him. He's fine. He scopes clean. It's been three months, so ," sighed trainer Jason Servis, who is hoping that the five-year-old gelding will find himself when he's back in action.
While Servis may have doubts about Tightend Touchdown's readiness, trainer Bruce Brown is expecting nothing but a top-class effort from Spring to the Sky, who ran a close fourth in an allowance on January 5. Prior to that, the Langfuhr five-year-old was 11th at 43-1 in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
"He couldn't have been doing better out there. He didn't handle switching over to the dirt well, but there were probably a lot of horses that didn't handle that. But that was where he started to drop back," Brown stated. "I'm not saying he would have won the race, but he probably would have run a little better. This first time running on that course, he didn't handle it well."
Brown said Spring to the Sky will need to do his own thing to run his best race in Saturday's Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint.
"He's the kind of horse that doesn't want to be messed with much. He kind of likes to do his own thing. With these kinds of races, you just kind of let him go. If there are faster horses in the race, like last time, he'll let them go. If not, he'll be in front. He'll just place himself," Brown explained. "His attitude is like, 'I know what I'm doing. Leave me alone.'
"Our main goal has been this race all along, it being a stakes race. That last race, I think it was a useful race. He got kind of pushed down to the inside a little bit. I think things could have worked out better, as far as his trip went. He would have run a little better, but we weren't looking for this A-One race," Brown added. "He's sitting on his best for this race coming up."