By Mike Kane
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With a mix of optimism and respect, trainer Gustavo Delgado and his son and assistant, Gustavo Delgado Jr., have gone about their primary task of the summer: preparing Caracaro (Uncle Mo) of the GI Kentucky Derby.
The Delgados are based in South Florida at Gulfstream Park West, but brought Caracaro to Saratoga Race Course in July with the goal of earning enough qualifying points to make the 20-horse Derby. Following second-place finishes in the GIII Peter Pan S. July 16 and the Aug. 8 GI Travers S., a colt who was injured in the winter and away from the races for about six months, is 10th on the Derby leaderboard at 60 points.
With the mission accomplished of just getting a position in the Derby field, the Delgados face the challenge of tangling once again with Tiz the Law (Constitution), the GI Belmont S. winner and likely Derby favorite. At the very least, they know Tiz the Law rather well. Caracaro was second to him in the Travers–5 1/2 lengths behind the New York-bred who was throttled-down in the stretch–and they have seen him in training over Saratoga's main track. Without question, Tiz the Law's Travers left them realistic about the test facing them at Churchill Down Sept. 5.
“The last race showed who the real horse was,” said Delgado, Jr., who often serves as the barn's spokesman. “The races before he was just winning, but the last one was impressive.”
Delgado said that jockey Manny Franco had Tiz the Law “cantering to the line” in the Travers, which turned out to be the fifth-fastest time in the history of the race.
“Before, we all thought he's a good horse,” Delgado Jr. said. “Now we're talking about something else, like a real good one, in my opinion.”
A moment later, he agreed with the suggestion that Tiz the Law might even be a great horse.
Delgado Jr. said that Caracaro, co-owned by Global Thoroughbred and Top Racing, belongs in the Derby and that his connections see him as a contender. The colt ran second in his debut at Gulfstream Park Dec. 8 then broke his maiden by six lengths Jan. 11. There were offers to buy him as a Derby prospect after the victory, but he had to be taken out of training when a vet exam revealed an issue in his rear end. The Peter Pan was his return to competition and he was quite game despite the lengthy layoff, battling with Country Grammer (Tonalist) in the stretch before finishing second by a neck. While never a threat to win the Travers, he finished well after a wide trip. Delgado Jr. said a top-four finish in the Derby with jockey Javier Castellano is realistic and that from what he and his father can see the colt is still developing.
“This is the third time off the layoff and they usually run well the third, the fourth time. If he keeps improving he's going to be tough,” he said. “Obviously, Tiz the Law is the main guy. If he doesn't show up for any reason, we might be ready.”
In Delgado Jr.'s assessment, Caracaro sits in a group of five or six capable Derby horses behind Tiz the Law. Caracaro worked five furlongs in 1:01.02 Saturday over the wet main track at Saratoga and will have his final breeze this weekend before shipping to Kentucky.
“He is a good horse. Just the other one is better than him now,” Delgado Jr. said. “You pull out Tiz the Law, I tell you, I am not afraid of any of the others. It's the Derby. Twenty horses. We've seen it before.”
Caracaro has thrived with his training and racing in Saratoga, Delgado Jr. said, providing some perspective.
“He's getting fitter, lighter. He had too much weight that he is losing progressively in a good way. He's more fit. He's more tight. Before the Peter Pan, you could tell in the paddock he was like this,” Delgado said, spreading his arms to illustrate width. “He looked way fatter than the other horses. He didn't look fit in the Peter Pan.
He continued, “You realize that once you are in the paddock and you can turn to the other horses. Sometimes when you see them train, you see them every day, you don't notice the difference. But once you are in the paddock and you look and compare them to the other ones, you are like, 'Oh, he's a little chubby.'”
Though Delgado Jr. was clear that Tiz the Law is the horse to beat in the Derby, he pointed to the reality that there are no guarantees in the sport.
“There is still a lot of time. They have a plane to catch,” he said. “Trust me, the pressure is on them. They have the best horse in the race. The pressure is on them.”