Velazquez Gets to Know Wildcat Red

On the morning of the post position draw for Saturday’s $1 million Besilu Stables Florida Derby, trainer Jose Garoffalo and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had their first conversation about Wildcat Red.           

Velazquez will ride the multiple Grade 2 winner for the first time in the Florida Derby, Wildcat Red’s seventh lifetime start – all at Gulfstream Park.           

“He impressed me because he was very happy, very optimistic about the horse,” Garoffalo said. “He already saw videos of the horse, and he knows how to ride a horse. We haven’t talked yet after the draw, but post position isn’t going to be an issue. It could be in favor of us. I’m going to talk to him before the race, but I don’t have too much to tell him. He knows what to do.”           

Entering Thursday’s card, the 42-year-old Velazquez had 19 wins and purses of nearly $1 million from 94 starts at the Champions meet since returning from injury in late January. He underwent emergency surgery to remove his spleen following a spill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 2.           

“It’s a lot of homework. You have to do the homework first,” Velazquez said. “You talk to the trainer and see what they want to do in the race, but for the most part you have to put in your own input, as well. In these big races, you have to meet in the middle with the trainer and the instructions and hope everything works out. You can’t just throw Plan A out there and if it doesn’t work, then you have to change it. You have to meet in the middle, because it doesn’t always work out.”           

Wildcat Red will break from the rail in the eight-horse field. Through March 25, post one produced the second-most winners in dirt route races at the meet at 16 percent (25-for-165). The most successful post is No. 2 (35-165, 21 percent), which will be occupied by Matator in the Florida Derby.            

“He’s quick enough; I just hope that he behaves well in the gate and breaks good enough to be in a comfortable position,” Velazquez said. “If nobody goes, he’s probably going to be on the lead, anyway. If somebody goes crazy, I can sit second or third. That would be the best-case scenario, that I can save him for the end and have something to fight with.”            

Wildcat Red has shown a tenacity to match his talent, evidenced by a head victory over General a Rod in the Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (G2) on Feb. 22 where he also broke from the rail, and a head loss to General a Rod in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1.           

“You see the statistics, the one is a very good post position,” Garoffalo said. “We’ll see what happens. He proved that he likes the inside. The last race he went inside all the way and he made it. When you get post position one, you depend on the break. That’s going to be the key of the race. But he always breaks good and he’s got speed, so I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”            

Velazquez has won the Florida Derby twice, with eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb last year and Quality Road in 2009.             

“It’s a great prep going to the Triple Crown, a very important race,” he said. “A lot of good horses come from here. I just hope that I am the one that wins it again.


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