Audible Makes Florida Derby Statement
The Holy Bull winner backed up that effort with an emphatic triumph March 31.
· By Alicia Wincze Hughes
One of the knocks on Audible in the weeks since he first stamped himself as a contender on this year's Road to the Kentucky Derby was that he didn't exactly sell his potential.
His morning training has a workman tone rather than a tease of brilliance. And in a time when every move a top 3-year-old makes can be scrutinized by every self-described expert on the internet, his workouts leading into the $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) were commonly described as mediocre at best.
Audible, b, 3/c
Into Mischief — Blue Devil Bel, by Gilded Time
Owner: China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing, WinStar Farm
Breeder: Oak Bluff Stables, LLC (NY)
Trainer: Todd A. Pletcher
Jockey: John R. Velazquez
Information provided by Equibase at time of entry.
Into Mischief stands at Spendthrift Farm for $100,000 (2018).
FTFMAR2017 • $500,000 • Consignor: Crupi's New Castle Farm, agent • Buyer: China Horse Club & WinStar Farm.
FTNAUG2016 • $175,000 • Consignor: Winter Quarter Farm, agent • Buyer: J.J. Crupi, agent for 4H.
Those trying to dissect the form of the son of Into Mischief over the next five weeks will have to stick to analyzing his moves outside of race day because, once again, he saved his best for when the real running began.
Audible doubled down on the form he flaunted during his breakout victory in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) when he sat well off a hot pace March 31 before advancing outside and kicking on in the lane en route to a three-length triumph over Hofburg in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
"You'd love for horses like this to breeze well all the time and put on a show in the morning, but once you get to know them and their personalities ... we felt like he was training as well as he ever had," Pletcher said of the colt who gave him his fourth Florida Derby win in the last five years. "We were cautiously optimistic."
There was every reason for Audible's camp to feel good about the colt's ability heading into Saturday's 1 1/8-mile prep race, which offered 100 qualifying points to the winner toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
When he captured the Holy Bull Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths over Free Drop Billy during his season debut, it marked his third straight win since running third in his debut at Belmont Park in September. With each race, he has shown different levels to his game—from being able to sit in the first flight off the pace, to handling himself between rivals, to showing he could take back and rally if others wanted to push the issue up front.
It was the latter strategy that was called upon in the Florida Derby as Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power—the 1-2 finishers in the Xpresssbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2)—dueled right out of the gate for the lead, with the former working hard to register the opening quarter-mile in a wicked :21.95. With the top two wearing each other out while opening up about five lengths on third-place Mississippi down the backside, jockey John Velazquez let Audible drop back to eighth while keeping him outside as the half-mile went in a taxing :46.37.
"We wanted to get some position into the first turn, which he was able to do beautifully. 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."
As Promises Fulfilled rounded the far turn, the toll of those fractions showed and he backed out as Mississippi made his surge to the front with Audible looming to his outside. That threat from Audible turned into reality a few strides later when he took command at the head of the lane and put daylight between himself and a game Hofburg, who made a rally of his own after being near the back of the nine-horse field.
"Once he got to the horses on the lead, I just tried to keep him busy down the lane, and he kicked pretty good," Velazquez said. "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."
Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Audible covered the distance in 1:49.48 over a track rated fast. Hofburg, a half sibling to grade 1 winner Emollient who was making his graded stakes debut, was 7 3/4 lengths clear of Mississippi and picked up 40 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby.
"We've certainly got to think about that (the Kentucky Derby)," said Bill Mott, trainer of Hofburg. "He ran well enough and galloped out good enough. I guess we've got to take everything into consideration, but we're certainly not going to rule anything out at this point."
Graded stakes winner Catholic Boy finished fourth, while Promises Fulfilled faded badly and ended up ninth.
"You live by the sword, you die by the sword," said Dale Romans, trainer of Promises Fulfilled and seventh-place finisher Storm Runner. "We went wire-to-wire last time, but that doesn't mean we don't regroup and go back in the Derby."
Audible's victory capped a stellar day in general for Gulfstream Park. The Hallandale Beach, Fla., track reported it generated a record total handle of $49,909,070.
The previous record for the highest single-day handle at Gulfstream excluding Breeders' Cup was this year on Pegasus World Cup Day when reigning Horse of the Year Gun Runner won and fans wagered $41.9 million. Saturday's handle was also a Florida Derby Day record, eclipsing the record of $32.082 million in 2017.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners, Audible earned his fourth win in five starts while improving his earnings to $882,920. He was bred in New York by Oak Bluff Stables out of the Gilded Time mare Blue Devil Bel and now has a chance to give his seven-time Eclipse Award winning-trainer some déjà vu.
Last season, Pletcher brought Always Dreaming to the Kentucky Derby off a sublime Florida Derby victory and watched that colt progress right into the blanket of roses. Though Pletcher also has graded stakes winner Magnum Moon and Noble Indy poised for May 5, Audible is invoking some positive comparisons to his classic-winning stablemate.
"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 ... 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."