China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and WinStar Farm’s Audible on Saturday silenced any doubters as to whether he was Florida’s leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby (GI) with his three-length victory in the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1). In doing so, he provided trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez each with their record fifth wins in Gulfstream Park’s signature Derby prep race and a second in a row, following Always Dreaming’s victory a year ago.
Audible earned 100 points toward making the gate for the Kentucky Derby, bringing his total to 100 and at the top of the leaderboard alongside stablemate Noble Indy, who won last week’s Louisiana Derby (GII).
After a clean break, Velazquez allowed Audible, who previously had preferred to be placed forwardly in the early going, to sit several lengths back and wide, well behind a heated early pace set by Promises Fulfilled, who dueled with with Strike Power through the first three-quarters of a mile in heated splits of :21.95, :46.37 and 1:11.68. Mississippi and Storm Runner followed the two early leaders in the next flight, a couple of lengths behind.
As the frontrunning pair began to tire while rounding the far bend, Velazquez got busy on Audible and soon after passed Mississippi and Storm Runner midway on the turn. Promises Fulfilled was also out of gas and retreated as Audible passed him to the far outside and, at the top of the lane, he had just Strike Power to get by to take the lead. By the time he straightened out for the drive, Audible was comfortably in front while racing out toward the center of the track and under a determined ride mostly to keep his mind on business, continued on gamely to the wire to earn the win.
After posting a mile in 1:36.96, Audible stopped the clock in 1:49.48 for the nine furlongs over a fast main track.
Hofburg and jockey Jose Ortiz closed strongly from the back of the pack to finish second, 7 ¾ lengths ahead of a hard-trying Mississippi and jockey Julien Leparoux. Catholic Boy finished fourth and was followed by Millionaire Runner, Tip Sheet, Storm Runner, Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled.
As the public’s 8-5 favorite, Audible paid $5.20, $4.20 and $3. Hofburg paid $7.20 and $4.40 at 8-1 and Mississippi, at 10-1, was good for $5. The exacta paid $25.40 and the trifecta (50 cents) was worth $77.35.
“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,” Pletcher said. “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. 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.”
Audible, a New York-bred son of Into Mischief and the Gilded Time mare Blue Devil Bel, was purchased for $500,000 a year ago as a Fasig-Tipton select 2-year-old in training. He has now won four of five career starts, with a third, for earnings of $882,920. He also won last month’s Holy Bull Stakes (GII) and a maiden and allowance race.
Next stop for Audible, according to Pletcher, will be the Run for the Roses in five weeks.
“It was similar to what we did with Always Dreaming last year,” Pletcher said of his most recent Derby winner. “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. 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.”
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 also likely earn his way into the Kentucky Derby field with his second-place finish in his initial Grade 1 start.