What trainer doesn't want to see his horse opening up a clear lead in the stretch? Well, Mike Maker, for one – at least during the early stretch run of Wednesday's $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby.
When General a Rod took a narrow lead at the top of the stretch in the one-mile stakes for newly turned 3-year-olds, Maker was only too happy to see pacesetter Wildcat Red continue to fight back to the finish line, forcing a photo finish that gave his colt the victory by a head.
“I didn't know I thought I had it, but I was glad the horse (Wildcat Red) hung around. I was worried about (jockey) Joel (Rosario) opening up a little bit because he waits on horses. So it gave him some company,” said Maker, noting General a Rod's habit of losing his focus while on the lead.
The son of Roman Ruler broke from the far outside post position in the nine-horse field for the country's first derby of the New Year, stalked the pace set by Wildcat Red along the backstretch before make a wide move to the lead on the turn into the homestretch. When challenged by General a Rod, Wildcat Red, under strong urging by Paco Lopez, battled back to take a narrow lead in mid-stretch before being headed at the wire.
“When I got to the horse in front, he just kind of waited a little bit. He didn't want to go by, but the other horse was running pretty good, too,” Rosario said. “I thought I had a little more left when I asked him, but he did the job. I think he's still learning now, so going forward he'll be even better.”
Wildcat Red, finished 2 ½ lengths clear of East Hall, a 22-1 shot ridden by Juan Leyva. Pablo Del Monte, the 5-2 favorite ridden by Kent Desormeaux, finished fourth.
“I thought my horse really raced well…he tried all the way,” said Lopez, whose mount had finished first in all three of his previous races. “I thought I had (General a Rod), but we just missed. My horse didn't give up. He tried the whole way.”
General a Rod, who ran the mile in 1:35.84, was co-second choice in the better at 3.80-1 with Wildcat Red and fifth-place finisher Aarons Orient. General a Rod, purchased for $72,000 from the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale, races for J. Armando Rodriguez.
“He's always shown great promise. He's a big, immature colt, but since his last race he's made no mistakes,” Maker said. “We were looking for a big effort today and we got it.”
General a Rod won his debut at Keeneland in October while running erratically through the stretch and came back to finish second behind Conquest Titan in an entry-level allowance race at Churchill Downs last time out.
“He's just learning. He made a lot of mistakes breaking his maiden. He was lugging in bad. There was a long objection. He didn't want to open up on horses. He likes waiting on horses,” Maker said.
“He ran great last time. He was just second best. The winner was coming out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was a bit more experienced.
Maker said the $400,000 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream on Jan. 25 is a possible target for General a Rod's next start.
“Everything's a possibility. We'll talk it over with the owner, but my first inclination is keeping him right here,” he said.
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