Let’s start with the Florida Derby and poor, lil’ Wildcat Red (3-1). He hit the wire first in 5 of 6 lifetime starts and finished 2nd by a head in the other, yet nobody wants to ride him! Johnny V. slides into the saddle as the 5th rider in the past 5 starts. You could see this as a knock against the horse, except that every jockey who switched to one of his foes suffered defeat. Will the “Curse of Wildcat Red” continue?

Luis Saez tries to break the curse aboard likely favorite Cairo Prince (9-5). Cairo Prince laid waste to his rivals in the Holy Bull Stakes last January before trainer Kiaran McLaughlin gave him a 2-month break from racing. One of his vanquished foes was Intense Holiday, who came back to win the Risen Star Stakes at the Fairgrounds and enters the Louisiana Derby as the favorite. The pace and speed ratings I assign Cairo Prince (using methods described in The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby) register as nearly even with Wildcat Red. The general assumption is that a more mature Cairo Prince will improve upon those earlier figures. And apparently, that’s how Mr. Saez sees it, too.

General A Rod (7-2), who finished just a head behind Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, also ranks nearly dead even pacewise and figurewise. This trio of horses with exceptional stakes efforts forms a flying wedge of talent that other horses in this race won’t likely surpass. Standing on this solid ground, your next step is to determine value.

Cairo Prince owns the lion’s share of media hype and thus the crown of favoritism. And he’s a nearly impeccable favorite. He might prove to be the best of the trio, but you won’t get paid much for taking that stance.

General A Rod failed to get past the resolute Wildcat Red in the FOY after hounding him from start to finish. Most players expect the added distance of the Florida Derby to work to his benefit. Trainer Michael Maker believes the General can run any style asked of him. Maker would like him to lay off the pace today, but he stated the importance of pressing Wildcat Red, and then added the caveat, “I hope Constitution chooses to do that.” From what I can see, the addition of blinkers a few races ago made General A Rod a keen-early type, and he’s lacked a sufficient winning kick in 2 of his 3 races with them on. By laying back, he gives a pace edge to Wildcat Red. By pressing, he loses his late kick. Either way, his task isn’t any easier today than it was in the FOY.

All those deliberations bring me back to Wildcat Red. He draws the inside post and a better jockey. There’s a fair chance he’ll inherit an easier pace, too. His win in the FOY is a fifth of a second faster than Cairo Prince’s victory on the same surface, and he accomplished that while running 2 lengths faster to the 6-furlong mark. So far, he’s faster early and late than both of his rivals. A very fast horse at a bargain (nonfavorite) price. Although I’m not betting big in this race, I am betting that the Curse of Wildcat Red continues.

—Roger LeBlanc