After Wildcat Red's second career start, a win in an allowance contest at Gulfstream, Josie Martino Delfino told her husband Salvatore, “We're going to Kentucky.”
The colt by D'wildcat is only the second racehorse the couple has ever owned, but that didn't diminish Josie's certainty.
“He's one in a million,” said Josie. “We've met so many people through this experience. We've met many friends, people in Florida, so it's been a beautiful journey with Red.”
The Delfinos, who reside in Caracas, were introduced to fellow Venezuelan and trainer Jose Garoffalo through mutual friends and asked him to find them a horse. Their first horse as Honors Stable Corp was the mare Trippi Honor, a solid claiming-level runner in Florida, who has since been retired. They asked Garoffalo to find them a colt, and for $30,000, they purchased the Kentucky Derby contender who has since earned them almost $700,000.
After his second win, Josie Delfino said they received an offer to buy the horse for “much more” than they had paid for him. Salvatore considered the deal seriously, but Josie was determined to hang onto the horse she believed could take them to Louisville.
The Delfinos own a wine importation and distribution company in Venezuela, and an Italian restaurant in Miami. Josie Delfino is heavily involved in animal rescue and adoption in Venezuela, where she said animals roam the streets, starving. Delfino said she watches whatever animal-centric movies she can find, and when she saw Disney's Secretariat, she was inspired by the story of Penny Chenery and the faith Chenery had in her horse.
“I kept telling my husband, 'Can you imagine having a horse one day and going to the Kentucky Derby?'” said Delfino. “I kept saying, 'You're going to see. I'm going to Kentucky with him.' I call him 'Red.' My 'Big Red.'”
“Now my husband calls me 'Penny,' too.”
Garoffalo similarly feels that the team around Wildcat Red, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Grade 3 Hutcheson, and runner-up in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, has some special Derby magic on its side.
“I've been lucky with the 'Red's. The first horse that I trained in the United States was Redformer,” he said. “Then I claim a horse named Red Hill, who won like seven or eight races for me. And now we have Wildcat Red, so it's the third 'Red' in my career, and they've all been very good to me.”
For his part, Garoffalo isn't so much a fan of the actual color, which is a symbol of revolution in his native country. But he doesn't mind a little luck where he can get it.
Garoffalo is a second-generation horseman who went to law school and the Venezuelan Academy of Thoroughbred Trainers but decided after getting degrees from both that the track was where he wanted to be. Garoffalo started with a small string in Venezuela before moving his operation to the United States full-time in 1999. He has saddled over 300 winners from more than 2,300 starters, primarily on Florida's circuit, and has conditioned stars Amazing Speed, El Segundo Joe, Fly Me Crazy, Wild Speed, and Yara. His shedrow numbers just 20 horses at Gulfstream Park.
“Being in Venezuela, it was kind of a dream for us to come here and win the big races. But I always thought I could make it one day,” he said.
“Since I was a kid this is what I wanted to do. I feel very lucky and very blessed, because I'm here. I'm in the horse industry, working where I want to work.”
Garoffalo and Delfino both said they aren't worried about the 1 ¼-mile distance or his front-running style, mostly because of the colt's fighting spirit.
“Red is a gladiator,” said Delfino. “This horse is special. He's got it in his heart to be a winner. He really, really fights for the track.”
Around the barn, Wildcat Red is a happy horse, always interested in socializing with the people around him. Delfino is particularly connected to the colt and visits him before every race for a pep talk.
“I always talk to him and tell him, 'You are going to be the best, you know you are, and just concentrate on the finish line,'” she said.
She hesitated to take a Kentucky Derby start for granted, but with 90 qualifying points, he should have a spot in the starting gate. If he does, Delfino is sure to be back at the barn, ready for the biggest coaching session yet.
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