HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- A tactic that's worked for Cairo Prince in the past may be his go-to move again in the Florida Derby.
Cairo Prince has been set as the 9-5 favorite for Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million race at Gulfstream Park, a major prep along the road to the Kentucky Derby. The draw was Wednesday, and it was no surprise to see the multiple stakes winner trained by Kieran McLaughlin set as the one to beat.
What Cairo Prince likely won't be, at least in the early stages of the 1-⅛ mile race, is the one to catch. There's plenty of speed on either side of Cairo Prince, with second-choice Wildcat Red (3-1) having drawn the inside starting position and General a Rod (7-2) opening in the No. 6 spot in the scheduled field of eight.
"He's happy and we're happy with post three," McLaughlin said. "There's a lot of speed in there, so I think we'll be coming from behind."
That's what Cairo Prince had to do in his only other start this year, when he won the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream back on Jan. 25. Sent off as the favorite then as well, Cairo Prince -- a winner in three of his four career starts -- was content to find a good spot not far off the pace, then find his extra gear with about two furlongs to run on the way to winning by nearly six lengths.
Wildcat Red has won his last two stakes races and has prevailed in four of six lifetime starts, all at Gulfstream. Wildcat Red's last loss came on Jan. 1 to General a Rod, the third choice in the Florida Derby field at 7-2.
"With the mile and an eighth and the smaller field, the post position is not a big deal," said Mark Casse, who trains Matador, which will start in the No. 2 spot. "It's a tough race."
Constitution puts his unbeaten record on the line in his first stakes race, and is part of trainer Todd Pletcher's powerful stable. Constitution will open from the No. 4 spot.
Wildcat Red already would figure to have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, so the Florida Derby isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. But it's still not a total lock that Wildcat Red will be heading to Churchill Downs, with trainer Jose Garoffalo saying that decision hinges on how he runs on -- and how he emerges from -- Saturday.
"It depends on the race," Garoffalo said. "This race is going be like the prep for the Derby, if we run a good race and the horse finishes in good shape."
Garoffalo's horse was one of the last two to be assigned a post position, and by the time his slip of paper was pulled during the draw only the No. 1 and No. 8 spots were left.
Either way, Garoffalo wasn't concerned.
"I wasn't too worried about the post position," Garoffalo said. "Closer to the rail is much better."
That meant the last position went to Spot, the Nick Zito-trainee who will open on the far outside and is another horse not shy about making a charge from off the pace.
"I would have preferred the 1," said Zito, a three-time winner of the Florida Derby.
The Florida Derby is one of eight stakes races on Saturday's card at Gulfstream, with more than $2 million in purses at stake.