Velazquez to pilot Wildcat Red in Florida Derby

Edited Gulfstream Park release:

For the fifth time in as many starts, Wildcat Red will have a new rider when he returns in the Grade I, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 29.

Trainer Jose Garoffalo has enlisted the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez for the 3-year-old son of  D’wildcat, who is coming off back-to-back graded stakes victories.  Luis Saez piloted Wildcat Red to victory in the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 22 but is committed to ride Holy Bull Stakes winner Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby.

“I’m very happy with that. I like him,” Garoffalo said. “He was the best option and he’s going to ride the horse in the Florida Derby. We’re all happy with Johnny V. I think he’s going to get along well with the horse. He knows every horse. He knows how to ride.”

Velazquez, 42, won the Florida Derby last year with eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb, and was also first in 2009 with Quality Road. The two-time Eclipse Award winner had emergency surgery to remove his spleen following a spill in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies  on Nov. 2, and has gone 12-for-67 since he resumed riding at Gulfstream on Jan. 25.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to talk to him yet but the kind of horse he is, he is very easy to ride,” Garoffalo said. “I don’t have to say too much. He knows what he is doing. I talked to the owners, and everybody’s happy.”

Edgard Zayas rode Wildcat Red in each of his first three starts, two of them wins, as well as the Juvenile Sprint Stakes on Nov. 9 where the horse finished first but was disqualified to second for interference in the stretch.

Paco Lopez replaced Zayas in the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, finishing second to General a Rod. Javier Castellano was aboard when Wildcat Red came back to win the Grade III Hutcheson on Feb. 1, and Saez  guided him to his gritty Fountain of Youth win over General a Rod

Owned by Honors Stable Corp., Wildcat Red returned to the track on Feb. 27 and has galloped 1 ½ miles every day this week. Garoffalo said the horse will breeze once before the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, but is undecided whether Velazquez will be up for the work.

“We have three more weeks ahead, but the horse doesn’t need too much,” he said. “He’s been training very good, so I don’t think he’s going to need to breeze with the rider. He’s ready; we’re just waiting for the race.”