Wildcat Red hasn't competed at less than 1 1/16 miles in five races since taking the February 1 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park, but on Saturday will show his versatility by cutting back to seven furlongs for the Grade 1, $500,000 King's Bishop on the Travers Day undercard at Saratoga.
The Jose Garoffalo trainee nearly swept the three major sophomore stakes at Gulfstream Park over the spring, taking the seventh-furlong Hutcheson by 4 ¾ lengths and the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth by a head, but just missed when a neck second in the nine-furlong Florida Derby. He would go on to suffer his only unplaced run when 18th following a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby on May 3, and was given some time off following that effort.
Wildcat Red proved ready for action when returning June 28 with a 10-length romp in the Quality Road at Gulfstream, then shipped to Monmouth Park for a third-place run in the Haskell Invitational last out. The bay sophomore has been getting familiar with Saratoga's track, clocking a half-mile in :49 ⅖ seconds last Saturday, and keeps Luis Saez in the saddle for the King's Bishop.
"I think the King's Bishop is the best spot to put him," Garoffalo explained about opting for this spot instead of the Travers later on the program. "The Travers is going to be tough, and I want to refresh him a little bit. The mile and a quarter is too long for him now.
"In this race, if we run good we still have a chance to go to [the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 20] or somewhere else. It all depends on the result and how the horse comes back."
Coup de Grace is seeking his third straight stakes win for trainer Larry Jones after posting a three-length victory in the July 26 Amsterdam, the major local prep for the King's Bishop.
KETEL ONE KING'S BISHOP STAKES DRAW
The Tapit chestnut entered that contest off a neck score in the Oh Say at Delaware Park just 21 days earlier in what was his first start for Jones after being conditioned by Chad Brown in his first five lifetime races. During that period of time, Coup de Grace sandwiched a win in the seven-furlong Bay Shore at Aqueduct between unplaced efforts in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull and seven-furlong Woody Stephens.
"We ran him at Delaware to get a feel for him before we tackled everyone in Saratoga," Jones explained. "He's still moving forward and is comfortable training here.
"His running style depends on the length of the race," the trainer added. "In sprint races he comes out relaxed and settles off the pace, but in routes he has shown more speed. There's a lot of speed in the King's Bishop, which should be comfortable for him. He's used to coming from off the pace in sprints."
Rosie Napravnik was aboard Coup de Grace for the Amsterdam and retains the mount in this spot.
C. Zee earned his shot at the King's Bishop after running second in the Amsterdam last out. Transferred from Stanley Gold to Nick Zito when shipped to Saratoga, the Florida-bred son of Elusive Bluff finished second in the Hutcheson and 10th in the Fountain of Youth behind Wildcat Red. He would go on to take the Sir Bear and Cherokee Run Stakes at Gulfstream while placing in a pair of listed events at Tampa Bay Downs and Calder.
C. Zee was making his first start outside of Florida in the Amsterdam, and has really taken to the Spa's main track, turning in a bullet, best-of-106, half-mile in :46 ⅖ seconds last Saturday.
"I think what happens is the weather is cooler than Florida and [horses] seem to really do well when they get up here," Zito said. "For some reason, he's got a lot of speed up here; a lot of speed. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a very tough race. The King's Bishop every year is getting tougher and tougher. It's a great race. I hope everything goes good. We're looking forward to it. He's a very good horse."
Joel Rosario has the call on C. Zee in the King's Bishop.
Stakes debuters The Big Beast and Fast Anna are something of a puzzle in the race after taking their past pair of races by huge margins.
The Big Beast broke his maiden and captured an allowance, both at six furlongs, by a combined 10 ½ lengths in his last two. The Tony Dutrow charge's most recent win, which came at Saratoga, earned him a 102 BRIS Speed rating, tying Wildcat Red's number earned in the Quality Road as a field best. The Yes It's True colt is taking a big step up in class for the King's Bishop but brings along jockey Javier Castellano to help him successfully navigate untried stakes waters.
"My horse is doing fantastic and I have lots of confidence in my horse," Dutrow stated. "I know it's going to be a tough race, but I'm going to leave it at that. My horse is doing great, and I'm really confident he's going to go over there and run good. And, I respect the competition.
"He's really, in my opinion, pulled it together tremendously in the last two months. He's very confident in himself. I think he feels like he's the real thing. I'm feeling really good about the horse coming together right at the right time for the King's Bishop."
The lightly raced Kathy Ritvo trainee Fast Anna is unbeaten in two Gulfstream starts, which he scored by a combined 15 ¼ lengths. Though the Medaglia d'Oro colt didn't break the triple-digit Speed rating mark for the two wins, he did earn a respectable 95 for each. John Velazquez will be aboard for the first time in the King's Bishop.
"This horse just seems to get better all the time," Ritvo asserted. "We're going to take a big swing, but he's doing so good there's no reason not to run him. I don't think it's going to make a big difference, the traffic or the people or anything that happens. He's professional. He's smart. He couldn't be doing any better."
Myositis Dan, Noble Cornerstone and Noble Moon complete the field for the King's Bishop. The former triumphed in a pair of seven-furlong all-weather allowances at Keeneland and Arlington, with a head third in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs tucked in between. New York-bred Noble Cornerstone is exiting a pair of victories against state-bred rivals, while Grade 2 hero Noble Moon will be going less than a mile for the first time since taking his maiden debut last September.