by Gulfstream Park Press Release
April 1, 2018
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Audible roared to a three-length victory in Saturday’s $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1), establishing himself as an imposing candidate for this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) while providing trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez their record fifth wins of Gulfstream Park’s signature race for 3-year-old Triple Crown prospects.
Pletcher, who has clinched his 15th consecutive training title at Gulfstream’s Championship Meet, saddled Always Dreaming for a five-length triumph in the 2017 Florida Derby before coming right back to score in the Kentucky Derby five weeks later.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains 2018, Audible entered the 1 1/8-mile centerpiece of Saturday’s 14-race program (five graded stakes) off a 5 ½-length romp in the $350,000 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream in his 2018 debut Feb. 3.
“Everyone at the end of the day is only going to remember the Kentucky Derby winner as the most important horse now, but the one thing that I’ve seen over the years, and we’ve been fortunate to win a lot of the prep races and two Derbys now, I think the excitement level for the owners is that this is what really drives them, this is what motivates them, this is what excites them,” said Pletcher, who also won the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010). “These are the races they want to win. To get to Churchill I think is kind of everyone’s ultimate goal or ultimate dream.”
Audible picked up 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to easily earn his way into the field for the May 5 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
“It was similar to what we did with Always Dreaming last year. We knew we had to perform well in the Florida Derby or we weren’t going to accumulate enough points to get in, but we also all felt like if you don’t run well in your final prep then you’re probably not going to Churchill anyway,” Pletcher said. “The most important thing is we thought he ran a huge race in the Holy Bull, we didn’t feel that there was a benefit to running him back in between, that we could hopefully take another step forward by giving him some space between those races and the fact that the Florida Derby is a Grade 1 is super-important to a stallion like he’s going to be.”
Pletcher-trained duo of Noble Indy, the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner, and Magnum Moon, who captured the Rebel (G3) at Oaklawn, have also picked up enough qualifying points to run in the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re fortunate to have the ones that we do but the next one is super tough,” said Pletcher, who won the Florida Derby with Materiality (2015), Constitution (2014) and Scat Daddy (2007), as well as Audible and Always Dreaming. “It looks like a really deep crop and some very impressive horses so the main thing you’ve just go to hope you have a good five weeks from here and everybody stay healthy and handle the surface there.”
Audible sat several lengths behind a torrid early pace contested by Swale (G3) winner Strike Power and Fountain of Youth victor Promises Fulfilled, who battled around the first turn before the former took the lead leaving the turn into the backstretch and was clocked in 21.95 (seconds) for the first quarter of a mile under Robby Albarado. Promises Fulfilled continued to lead the way past a half-mile in 46.37 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.68 before weakening on the far turn.
Mississippi, who had settled in third on the backstretch, briefly took the lead leaving the turn into the homestretch, only to be swallowed up by Audible, who made a wide sweeping move on the turn after steadily advancing on the backstretch under jockey John Velazquez. Audible drew away under mild pressure to a comfortable victory, while Hofburg and jockey Jose Ortiz closed well to finish second, 7 ¾ lengths ahead of Mississippi and jockey Julien Leparoux. Catholic Boy finished fourth, another 1 ½ lengths back, while Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power finished last and next-to-last, respectively, in the nine-horse field.
“The race unfolded with the pace that we were hoping for and we wanted to get some position into the first turn, which he was able to do beautifully. Just watching the race I was a little concerned at the five-eighths pole because he started to drop back a little bit, but I could tell Johnny wasn’t panicked,” Pletcher said. “He kind of grabbed him up and sometime midway down the backstretch he started to pick up horses and I started to feel better and better. You could tell the pace up front had developed pretty swiftly so you felt like those horses were going to start to come back at some stage.”
New York-bred Audible ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.48 to win his fourth consecutive race after finishing third in his debut at Belmont in September.
“Once he got to the horses on the lead I just tried to keep him busy down the lane and he kicked pretty good. I didn’t ride him last time but he way he ran today he was definitely impressive. [The distance] didn’t seem to bother him at all. I think the farther he goes the better he gets,” said Velazquez, who picked up the mount when Javier Castellano opted to ride in the Dubai World Cup aboard West Coast, who finished second behind Thunder Snow.
The Florida Derby has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown events, including 24 Kentucky Derby champions. Three of the last five Kentucky Derby winners – Always Dreaming, Nyquist (2016) and Orb (2013) -- also won the Florida Derby.
Hofburg picked up 50 qualifying points to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby field with his second-place finish in his Grade 1 debut after breaking his maiden at Gulfstream March 3 in his second lifetime start.
“I think we’re all pleased. Naturally, winning would have been the only thing that would have been better, but he ran well and he galloped out well. He took a lot of dirt and was very professional. He was much more seasoned today and did everything right. He was the perfect gentleman and just much better behaved today” Mott said. “We’ve got to think about (the Kentucky Derby) he ran well enough and galloped out good enough that we’ve got to take everything into consideration but we’re not going to rule anything out at this point.”
Although Promises Fulfilled brought up the rear in the Florida Derby, the son of Shackleford could well show up in the Kentucky Derby.
“You live by the sword, you die by the sword,” trainer Dale Romans said. “We went wire to wire last time, but that doesn’t mean we don’t regroup and go back in the Derby.”