Wildcat Red led for much of the 2014 Florida Derby on Saturday, but a late surge ahead of the final turn saw jockey Javier Castellano ride Constitution to victory by a neck at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
General a Rod was running second to Wildcat Red for almost the entire race but settled for third behind the aforementioned two competitors in the field of eight formidable horses. Pre-race even-money favorite Cairo Prince rode to fourth place to just miss out on finishing in the money.
Here is a look at the complete order of finish in what was an exciting, high-profile showcase over nine furlongs at the dirt track:
|2014 Florida Derby Order of Finish|
|1||Constitution||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||4|
|2||Wildcat Red||John R. Velazquez||Jose Garoffalo||1|
|3||General a Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker||6|
|4||Cairo Prince||Luis Saez||Kiaran McLaughlin||3|
|5||East Hall||Juan C. Leyva||William Kaplan||5|
|6||Matador||Julien R. Leparoux||Mark Casse||2|
|7||Spot||Corey J. Lanerica||Nick Zito||8|
|8||Allstar||Orlando Bocachica||Marcus J. Vitali||7|
Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News felt that Cairo Prince had no viable culprit to blame for not living up to the hype:
This was only the third race of Constitution's career, so this triumph suggests a sign of great things to come. Even though Wildcat Red started nearest to the rail in post No. 1 and had veteran jockey John R. Velazquez aboard, Castellano still found a way to maneuver to the inside and make the decisive pass to win in a photo finish.
Stats guru Gary Dougherty noted this was the second win in this particular race for prolific trainer Todd Pletcher and the first for Castellano:
Darren Rogers of ChurchillDowns.com pointed out how the Florida Derby has produced 22 winners in the Kentucky Derby, the horse racing season's first Triple Crown race:
Orb won the Florida Derby last year and went on to win the Run for the Roses, so recent history favors Constitution's chances in Louisville, Ky. However, before then, this win can be cherished by Pletcher and all of Constitution's connections.
This Grade 1 win gives Constitution 100 points in the Kenutcky Derby Points Standings, shooting him to the third place for the time being. The Kentucky Derby's official Twitter account provided a points breakdown for the Florida Derby's top finishers:
NBC race caller Larry Collmus had no shortage of enthusiasm after his 14th race of the day:
Below is an overview of the payouts for the top three. The $2 Exacta paid $38.20, while the $1 Trifecta paid $53.00 and the $0.10 Superfecta paid $9.54, per GulfstreamPark.com.
|2014 Florida Derby Payouts|
|General a Rod||—||—||$3.40|
Constitution had a gutsy comeback win to add to his previous two career wins. The three-year-old's lack of experience didn't faze him or Castellano on what was a brilliant ride. WinStar Farm President Elliott Walden defended the decision to not run Constitution often as he developed, implying that would start to become a trend, per Kentucky.com's Alicia Wincze Hughes:
The stigma of not running at 2 is going to be broken within the next five years, maybe more than once. So I'm not worried about it. The way trainers train and the way the points system is, it sets everything up to try and get there late. It changes the way you do things so it will be broken in the next five years, I have no doubt.
Perhaps Walden has a point in light of the results Constitution has been producing not only in this race but in his two wins prior. Now the question remains whether or not Constitution can keep this up and muster enough to triumph at Churchill Downs.
Jockeys can change allegiances leading up to the first Triple Crown race of the season, but Castellano is likely to remain with Constitution in light of Saturday's landmark victory. Having Pletcher as the trainer has to be a reassuring element to keep Castellano in the fold.
This was a thrilling launch to the lead up to the Kentucky Derby, and next Saturday's Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes will provide a better barometer as to who the true contenders for the maiden Triple Crown jaunt are.