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Kiaran McLaughlin’s Cairo Prince heads Florida Derby field
Updated - 3/28/2014

Kiaran McLaughlin has been big time for a long time. Since 1993 he's trained for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, one of the world's most powerful owners. In 2006, the easygoing Kentucky native won the Belmont Stakes with Jazil and the Breeders' Cup Classic with Horse of the Year Invasor. Excelling on the big stage is no novelty for the 53-year-old Garden City resident.

The great prize that's eluded McLaughlin is the 14-karat gold trophy they award at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. He feels confident that the colt Cairo Prince can fulfill his lifetime dream of winning the Kentucky Derby. The gray son of 2009 Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile is a nose away from being 4-for-4 and is at or near the top of every list of Derby contenders. Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Cairo Prince will try to validate the loud buzz about him in the Grade I, $1-million Florida Derby.

"We've never had a 3-year-old who's as good as he is," said McLaughlin, whose Closing Argument ran second in the 2005 Run for the Roses. "This is our best chance in the Kentucky Derby for sure."

Cairo Prince (post 3, jockey Luis Saez) is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in a field of eight for the 11/8-mile Florida Derby, which Orb took last year before dominating in Louisville. "We're happy with the 3," McLaughlin said. "There's a lot of speed in there, so we'll probably be coming from behind."

The other leading contenders are the likely pacesetter, Wildcat Red (3-1, post 1), and General a Rod (7-2, post 6), who ran 1-2, respectively, Feb. 22 in Gulfstream's Fountain of Youth. (And no, General a Rod isn't named for Alex Rodriguez, but for his owner, J. Armando Rodriguez.)

It will be Cairo Prince's final prep, and McLaughlin said he'll be fully cranked for a top effort.

"He's doing great, working every Saturday," he said. "He hasn't missed a work since the Holy Bull," in which Cairo Prince cruised by 53/4 lengths Jan. 25 at Gulfstream. The third-place finisher, Intense Holiday, came back to win the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds, where he'll try to repeat tomorrow in the Grade II, 11/8-mile Louisiana Derby.

McLaughlin recognized Cairo Prince's high upside last summer. "From his earliest gallops, he was working effortlessly, doing things that everyday horses just don't do," he said Tuesday. "He's always trained very well and has done everything right."

The nine-week layoff since the Holy Bull was by design. "It was a big effort, and he would have been giving six pounds to the other horses if we'd run him back in the Fountain of Youth," McLaughlin said. "He's ready to perform an A-plus race."

Florida Derby will prove if Cairo Prince has Derby cred
Updated - 3/27/2014

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Lexington attorney Craig Robertson remembers when it really came onto his radar that Saturday's 9-5 Florida Derby favorite Cairo Prince might be the special horse about which most horse owners don't dare to even fantasize.

Robertson couldn't make the trip. But one of his partners, Paul Braverman, went to Belmont Park for Cairo Prince's first race Oct. 6.

He asked trainer Kiaran McLaughlin before the race who was his best 2-year-old that might be able to make it to the Kentucky Derby.

"Kiaran said, 'This one, Cairo Prince,'" Robertson said Braverman told him. " I said,. 'Really?' That was the first time I thought, 'Wow, if Kiaran thought that about the horse, we might really have something special on our hands.'"

McLaughlin had done a good job keeping under wraps what he'd felt for months.

Asked on a national conference call Tuesday when he first thought what he readily admits now – that Cairo Prince is the kind to take this Kentucky boy to the hallowed grounds of Churchill Downs' Derby winner's circle – McLaughlin said it was in June, long before the colt ran.

"He just was working effortlessly and doing things that every-day horses don't do, galloping out strong, not getting tired," he said.

A shoeing mishap kept the horse from running at Saratoga.

"Maybe it all worked out in the end," McLaughlin said. "But he always just trained very well, did everything right. And he has a great mind. He's very sound mentally and physically."

Cairo Prince has lost only once in four starts, that by a nose in Aqueduct's Remsen Stakes Nov. 30.

He was so impressive in winning Gulfstream's $400,000 Grade II Holy Bull by 5 3/4 lengths over a field that includes Saturday's Louisiana Derby winner Intense Holiday that Cairo Prince has been the favorite for weeks in The (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Kentucky Derby poll.

By McLaughlin's choice, Cairo Prince skipped the Fountain of Youth, where Wildcat Red outlasted General a Rod by a head after a race-long duel. Those two are the second (3-1 Wildcat Red) and third (7-2 General a Rod) choices in the field of eight 3-year-olds entered Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile, $1 million Florida Derby.

With 14 points on Churchill Downs' tiered points system for determining who gets into the Kentucky Derby, Cairo Prince probably needs to finish at least fourth (worth 10 more points) to be fairly secure of making the May 3 classic.

"I think it was understood that when the decision was made to skip the Fountain of Youth that there was an inherent risk, because of the point system," Robertson said. "That being said, I think it was the right thing to do for the horse and I also think everyone generally accepted that history has shown us that unless you do well in your final Derby prep, you don't do well in the Derby anyway. So it was a risk worth taking."

In the wake of the Holy Bull, the partners in Cairo Prince sold an undisclosed majority interest to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, though they all stayed in for a piece. The other original partners are Braverman, Terry Murray and Harvey Clarke (the breeder of 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another). Those partners also had 2011 Fountain of Youth winner Soldat, who was fifth in the Florida Derby and 11th in the Kentucky Derby.

To Robertson, the thrill of ownership doesn't change if he's in for a hair or in for the whole.

"Steve Shahinian, the bloodstock agent who is a good friend of mine and picked out both Soldat and Cairo Prince, he said to me once, 'When they're coming around into the stretch, even if you're a minority owner, it's not like you're only rooting 50-percent hard, or 40-percent hard or 30-percent hard. You're a 100 percent all in,'" he said. "I'll be yelling just as hard as always."

Robertson attended Lafayette High School in Lexington with McLaughlin's younger brother and assistant, Neal, as well as their sister Fiona. He could never have imagined having the favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

"I didn't think that two years ago when we bought Cairo Prince as yearling," for $250,000 at Keeneland, he said. "I got into the horse business because I love it and I'm passionate and it's so much fun. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd end up being part-owner of a horse even mentioned in same breath as the Kentucky Derby, much less in the position this one is. I pinch myself, want to make sure it's not all a dream. The excitement level I'm feeling now is off the charts."

Florida Derby field: Wildcat Red, 3-1; Matador, 15-1; Cairo Prince, 9-5; Constitution, 4-1; East Hall, 20-1; General a Rod, 7-2; Allstar, 30-1; Spot, 8-1

Jennie Rees also writes for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Follow her on Twitter @CJ_Jennie, Facebook.com/CJJennie and courier-journal.com/racingblog.

Q&A With Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin
Updated - 3/25/2014

By Ciara Bowen

Kiaran McLaughlin came within half a length of winning the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) in 2005 when Closing Argument   finished second to 50-1 shot Giacomo  . Since then the affable conditioner has returned with three contenders —Jazil   (4th), Flashy Bull   (14th), and Alpha (12th)—but this year looks to have his best shot at victory with Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) winner Cairo Prince.

Before the Pioneerof the Nile   colt makes it to Churchill Downs, he will need to perform his best in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park March 29.

Cairo Prince,  bred in Kentucky out of the grade III-placed Holy Bull mare Holy Bubbette,  has won three of four starts. His most recent was the 1 1/16-mile event named after his dam's sire on Jan. 25, after which Darley purchased a majority interest from an ownership group consisting of Namcook Stables (Terry Murray), Paul Braverman, Harvey Clarke, and Craig Robertson III.

Cairo Prince's only loss was to the now-sidelined Honor Code by a head in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 30 at Aqueduct Racetrack. He had his last work prior to the Florida Derby on March 22, breezing a half mile in :50.90. Here, 54-year-old McLaughlin discusses his most recent, and perhaps best, Derby prospect. 
Did Cairo Prince strike you as a potential Derby contender from the start?
"Very interesting question and answer. We really liked him a lot and we got a little unlucky early in August. The blacksmith got him and lamed him up with a nail and it's usually not a big deal, but that ended up being a bit of a big one. We missed a couple weeks and got pushed back, but we always liked him a lot.
"When we entered him, in the paddock that day, Paul Braverman said to me, 'Do you have any Derby horses this year?' And I said, 'Paul, this is our Derby horse.' He said, 'Really? Out of all those babies you have for Shadwell and Darley, this is the horse?' I said, 'Yeah, this is the horse.' So we liked him early, and we've liked him often. He's been our Derby horse from the beginning."
What's he like to handle in the barn?
"Great! He's a real special horse to be around, very smart. He does everything right and he's always a pleasure to be around."
Has that always been the case, or did he change as he developed experience?
"He has always been that way, a real classy horse. He's a very smart horse and he has just done everything right."
When did you first have an idea that you were right, that he would really be good enough for the Derby trail?
"I loved the Nov. 3 race,, the Nashua (gr. II). He did it the right way, impressively after breaking his maiden first time out. He won impressively his second time out in a stakes, and that's when we really liked him more, and he proved at that point that we were correct in our assessment."
Which of Cairo Prince's performances surprised you?
"He should not have gotten beat in the Remsen. The jockey made a mistake, and the racing conditions got us. I disagree with a lot about the point system. I don't like the point system. We won the prep for the Remsen and we were penalized. We had to give everybody six pounds in the Remsen—including Honor Code, who beat us six inches. Our jockey thought we went by at the eighth pole and that we were gonna win, and he had his stick down. Honor Code came back and it was too late in the race. We lost by a nose giving Honor Code six pounds, and that's why we skipped the Fountain of Youth (gr. II). We were going to have to give everyone six pounds again. In the Florida Derby, everyone carries 123.
"So my point about the points is that if you want 20 of the best horses to get in the gate for the Kentucky Derby, you have to give equal weight to everybody. You can't penalize people for winning prep races. What if you have no points? We had no points and then go to the Remsen and we're giving a horse six pounds and lose by six inches. It's not fair, it's not proper, it's poorly done. I dislike the point system altogether."
Talk about skipping the Fountain of Youth and training straight to the Florida Derby. What are the benefits to that decision?
"The negative is that we skipped a race and we're going to have 60 days in between and that's not always easily done in horse racing. But the positives are that we have a fresh, happy, healthy horse. He ran so fast on figures in the Holy Bull that we were afraid of regression coming back in the Fountain of Youth. We said we were just going to give up a race.
"The pluses are plentiful. We're happy that he's training great, and that he's healthy. We're happy that he's doing great. We feel like it's a plus to let the other horses run more frequently and beat each other up a bit, and we're at home waiting for the Florida Derby."
Is he where you want him to be at this point?
"Yes, absolutely. He's ready to go, he's happy. We wish the Kentucky Derby was next Saturday instead of the Florida Derby. Now we have to train for another five weeks to get there. But he's really doing great."
When training a horse for the Triple Crown trail, you have to balance going sparingly on the prep races so that you have more left in your horse for the Triple Crown, but you also want to make sure that you've got enough bottom and experience into them. That has to be a tough thing to do.
"Exactly, and that's why we're doing it the way we're doing it. That's why we skipped the Fountain of Youth. They're not machines. You can't run them every four weeks, five weeks. Well, you can, but it's going to be tough to keep going. We thought about the Kentucky Derby as the main goal, so we're happy.
"We only have 14 points, and I don't agree with that, again, but we have 14 points. I feel pretty good that if we finish one, two, three, or four in any major prep—so, his next race, which right now is the Florida Derby—we will get in. If we finish fourth we get 10 points. And how the hell did they come up with those numbers? You finish fourth in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) or the Florida Derby; it's a better race than the Remsen or the Holy Bull. I don't believe that. I hate the point system, for the 10th time, but we're going to have to deal with it.
"So I'm happy, and we're going to have to get there. We're trying to point for May 3, it's what we've had in our minds for a long time. We're ready and we've prepped and everything."
Some trainers like to stick to Derby preps in New York, others like the series at Oaklawn, etc. What is it about the Florida preps that appealed to you for Cairo Prince, other than the fact that you're based there in the winter?
"We're here in Florida in the winter, and New York in the winter, and we've had great success in both places. This particular horse has done extremely well this winter in Florida. We have a plane reservation on April 2 for him, so we could possibly scratch in the Florida Derby if it rains and it's a mess. There's rain in the forecast. If we drew 12 of 12 we could scratch and go to the Wood Memorial. But the owners are great; either way we go, they're happy.
"The reason we want to race in Florida is we like the five weeks until the Kentucky Derby. The timing is great. The Wood Memorial is four weeks, which we also like, but we prefer five weeks. We prefer being here in Florida because we're already here and he's done so well training at Palm Meadows."
Since you sat out the Fountain of Youth, you probably had a chance to analyze contenders a little more without worrying about your own. Who has impressed you in Florida, both in training and on the racetrack?
"I would say that the horse that has got me worried the most is Social Inclusion, the horse that beat Honor Code. He was very impressive. The horses that finished one-two in the Fountain of Youth, too. And the horse of Todd Pletcher's—Constitution—that won an allowance race that day impressed me. There are plenty of nice horses out here, and we just have to hope we don't draw post 12 of 12 or 14 of 14, and we just have to work out a good trip. The track is still speed-favoring, although we hope it won't be on race day, especially if there's a lot of speed in the race. The weather is concerning me a little bit. There's supposed to be like four days of rain before the Florida Derby right now. We'll just watch how the race forms."
What do you hope to see from Cairo Prince in the Florida Derby?
"We hope that he finishes one, two, three, or four so that we do get into the Kentucky Derby. That's the most important thing, but considering the way he's training and with how he's doing, we expect him to run very well. If we finish second or third and don't win, it's not the end of the world because we're pointing for the Derby. But we hope to have a clean trip, and hope things go right, and we hope to win. I could see us finishing second or third here because the track is really still speed-favoring. But w're trying to win, for sure. It's an important race."
Many people have expressed doubt at Cairo Prince's ability to win at the mile-and-a-quarter distance of the Kentucky Derby due to his pedigree. Do you think he will be able to perform at his best at this distance?
"Yes, he can handle it. For sure, the distance should not be an issue. He might finish second or third and get beat and have trouble in the Kentucky Derby. But we're a long way away from that still. As far as pedigrees go, Pioneerof the Nile finished second in the Kentucky Derby. His dam is Holy Bubbette, and she's a taller, leggier horse. We've had no problem handling a mile and an eighth or a mile and sixteenth. So far, we don't think it's going to be a negative; it's a positive to me."
In the Remsen, Cairo Prince carried six pounds more than Honor Code, and was just barely beaten by the other colt. Were you happy with that performance?
"I was not happy with our ride. Our jockey was overconfident and he sat there and went by (Honor Code), and instead of hitting him twice and opening up three lengths, he let Honor Code come back. But it was a very good race, and we should be undefeated today. We should be four-for-four. But because of the six pounds and the poor ride...we left Luis (Saez) on him because he wouldn't make that mistake again, we didn't think. But yes, I was very happy with the race, I just wasn't pleased with our ride that day."
What do you think he gained from the experience?
"I don't really know—and does it matter? The main thing is, and I say this over and over, we don't need experience and we don't need to change anything. We don't need to do anything except to get there that day. That's both Florida Derby day and Kentucky Derby day. We have the horse, we just need to get there and keep him happy, sound, and healthy. That's our main goal."
You've trained several good horses throughout the years. Who were a couple of your favorites?
"Invasor  . He was my no question favorite horse. He was a super horse. He brought us great pleasure in winning the World Cup (UAE-I) in Dubai and the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) here. And I would say Questing, she was an awesome horse to be around. Henny Hughes (as well). We've had our share of fun ones."
To date, you've started four horses in the Derby, with the top finisher being Closing Argument, who ran second in 2005. How do you feel Cairo Prince fits in with your past contenders talent-wise?
"No comparison. No comparison. He's that much better than all of them that we've run."
Cairo Prince is leading 3-year-old heading into Florida Derby
Updated - 3/25/2014

The Sports Network

New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Week 3 of the National Thoroughbred Association 3-year-old Poll has Cairo Prince sitting in first-place just days before the colt is to run in the $1 million Florida Derby.

Cairo Prince, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, leads the way in the voting with 31 first-place votes and 467 points. an increase of 64 from last week. Owned by Godolphin Stable, the Holy Bull Stakes winner will start in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on Saturday which will serve as his last race before the Kentucky Derby on May 3. Cairo Prince is expected to be the favorite for the race.

California Chrome, winner of the San Felipe Stakes, remains second with seven top votes and 375 points. Trained by Art Sherman, the colt will go in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 prior to the Run for the Roses.

Candy Boy, another Santa Anita Derby probable, holds on to the third spot with six first-place votes and 330 points.

Samraat, the Gotham Stakes champ, is fourth with two top votes and 276 points. Trained by Richard Violette, the colt will start in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5.

"He'll have his next breeze on either Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and then there's a plane to New York on Tuesday," Violette said from Florida.

Tapiture, second in the Rebel Stakes to Hoppertunity, picked up one first- place vote and 240 points to remain fifth. Hoppertunity is sixth with a single top vote and 229 points. The two colts are likely to meet again in Oaklawn's Arkansas Derby on April 12.

Intense Holiday, the Risen Star Stakes champ, is seventh with 214 points and Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Wildcat Red has one first-place vote and 134 points to keep steady in eighth.

Joining the top 10 are Fountain of Youth runner-up General A Rod with 65 points and Sunland Derby winner Chitu with 64 points.

The National Poll had no changes from last week.

Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude maintains a firm grip on first-place with 23 top votes and 463 points.

He is followed by Big 'Cap runner-up Will Take Charge with three first-place votes and 404 points.

Completing the poll are Lea (4, 347), Wise Dan (19, 328), Mucho Macho Man (278), Palace Malice (1, 253), Sahara Sky (158), Winning Prize (133), Beholder (95) and Close Hatches (50).

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/24/4015698/cairo-prince-is-leading-3-year.html#storylink=cpy
Godolphin Entrymates Run One-Two in Excelsior
Updated - 3/24/2014
By Claire Novak

Entrymates Romansh and Long River ran one-two in the $150,000 Excelsior Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack March 22, the winner surging back after being headed by his fellow Godolphin-owned rival (VIDEO).

Romansh, carrying top weight of 123 pounds based on his 9 1/4-length score and career-high Beyer of 110 in last November's Discovery Handicap (gr. III), won by a neck over Long River, and it was 4 1/4 lengths farther back to third-place finisher Percussion. The Godolphin duo was an overwhelming 1-4 favorite in the six-horse field.

Breaking alertly from the outside in the field of six, Romansh tracked pacesetter Percussion through opening fractions of :23.68 and :47.90. Long River was never far back, rating third on the rail as three-quarters went in 1:12.07.

Heading into the far turn, Romansh pulled jockey Jose Ortiz up to the front outside Percussion under his own power, and set off for home through a mile in 1:36.79. Long River, shifted outside by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., put in a good run to hook up with Romansh and actually poked a nose in front mid-stretch, but the inside horse fought back determinedly to put his neck in front on the line.

"My horse kind of waited, but he was still running," Jose Ortiz said. "Long River passed me, but as soon as Romansh felt that horse he kept going and responded very well."

Final time for the 1 1/8-mile test for 3-year-olds and older was 1:49.07 on the fast inner track.

Romansh, a 4-year-old son of Bernardini  , came into the Excelsior after finishing last of 11 in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 9, his season debut and first outing since winning the Discovery. He was awarded victory in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga Race Course last summer via disqualification, and ran fifth in the Travers (gr. I) in August and sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) in September before getting some time leading into his Discovery score in November.

"I was just hoping he'd redeem himself," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "His last race was so confusing. He trained well before the race and he came out of the race training well. Maybe it was a matter of the surface there or the fact he hadn't run in a while; just a couple of different things. It just didn't figure why he would run so bad.

"I think he's a serious horse. We've always thought that way. I had this horse at Palm Meadows as a 3-year-old and he was always the one that we talked about the most. He's got a good future. We'll play things by ear as far as his next race; 1 1/8 miles appears to be his best distance so we'll work around that. We know we have a nice horse for later on, maybe Saratoga and the Whitney (gr. I)."

Romansh and Long River paid $2.50, $2.50, and $2.10. Percussion returned $2.80, while Dawly, Praetereo, and Don Dulce completed the order of finish. Mr Palmer scratched.

Bred in Kentucky by Darley and Lynn B. Schiff out of the Go for Gin mare Cologny, Romansh improved his career record to four wins and a third from nine starts, with earnings of $373,580.

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