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.
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"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."