Kentucky Derby dreams can begin anywhere, anytime. If not for a rainy day at Saratoga, it’s very possible that Cairo Cat would never have emerged as the early leader on the list of qualifiers for the 2019 Kentucky Derby.
Suffice to say, Cairo Cat has come a long way since his debut on July 21st at Saratoga, when he broke slowly and never challenged while finishing eighth in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race over the inner turf course. Trainer Kenny McPeek, electing to give the colt another try on turf, entered Cairo Cat in a similar race three weeks later… but then it rained, the race was transferred to the main track, and Cairo Cat demonstrated his affinity for dirt by rallying to a determined victory.
Thus, by the luck of the weather, McPeek had a promising young dirt runner on their hands, and Cairo Cat—who was purchased for $130,000 by Walking L Thoroughbreds last year—reiterated his appreciation for the surface switch by winning yet again in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) on September 15th at Churchill Downs, in the process earning 10 Kentucky Derby qualification points to secure his spot atop the early leaderboard.
Already, Cairo Cat has shown a lot of traits that could make him a major player on the Derby trail. He’s won over fast and wet tracks, and he’s demonstrated the ability to rate comfortably off the pace, even working out an inside trip to win the Iroquois, which can be difficult for some juveniles to handle. And while he’s been ridden by three different jockeys in his first three starts, Brian Hernandez, Jr. rode him perfectly in the Iroquois and figures to retain the mount for the time being, a positive development considering that Hernandez is one of the leading riders at Churchill Downs, where the Derby will be held next May.
But can Cairo Cat handle the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Derby? That remains to be seen. His sire, Cairo Prince, was a two-time graded stakes winner going a mile or farther, but Cairo Cat’s dam—La Belle Cat—never won going farther than six furlongs, and her only other foal to date—Ride to the Wire—has been a tried-and-true sprinter thus far. At least the dam side of Cairo Cat’s pedigree could be contributing a little stamina through La Belle Cat’s sire Tale of the Cat, whose best progeny include the successful two-turn runners Gio Ponti, Stopchargingmaria, and Lion Heart.
But no matter how you slice it, Cairo Cat is off to a great start on the Derby trail, all thanks to a rainy day at Saratoga.