Audible was listed as the 7-2 second choice among nine rivals in the December 30 Damon Runyon at Aqueduct but a play change had huge consequences as the weather gods scrapped the program and the Todd Pletcher-trained colt was redirected to the February 3 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream.
With a thunderous 5 ½-length victory, Audible altered the landscape of the South Florida 3-year-old division and catapulted up Kentucky Derby rankings. Among those left in his wake were well-respected rivals Free Drop Billy, Tiz Mischief and Enticed.
The Damon Runyon took place on January 15 without Audible and the one-mile race appears unlikely to have an impact upon the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The Holy Bull was one of three Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers offered February 3, but the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct and Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita failed to generate the same excitement.
A New York-bred son of the Spendthrift Farm stallion Into Mischief, Audible recorded a late-running third when opening his career in a state-bred maiden at Belmont Park in late September and graduated at second asking, defeating restricted foes at Aqueduct by nearly two lengths in mid-November. He came back three weeks later to crush a trio of open rivals in an entry-level allowance that was moved from turf to one-mile on dirt.
The bay sophomore displayed improved tactical speed in his previous two starts and brought a respectable set of BRIS Speed ratings (85-91-94) into his two-turn bow. Jockey Javier Castellano retained the mount for the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull and established a forward positioning aboard Audible, a couple of lengths back in third as the nine-horse field made its way down the backstretch.
Audible advanced menacingly entering the far turn, easily dismissing a longshot pacesetter as he moved to the fore rounding the bend, but Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Free Drop Billy was launching a bold rally from just off the pace and drew alongside approaching the top of the stretch.
The winner couldn’t have been more visually impressive repelling the short-lived challenge, quickly accelerating clear as he straightened for home, and Audible continued to pour it on all the way to the wire in the short stretch, registering an outstanding 112 BRIS Late Pace rating.
Audible received an excellent 105 BRIS Speed, the top figure recorded by a Kentucky Derby prospect this year, and equaled the best number earned by juvenile champion Good Magic and multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro last season.
In pursuit of his first Kentucky Derby victory, Castellano is loaded presently. Along with Audible, the multiple Eclipse Award-winning and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee recently picked up the mount aboard Bolt d’Oro and he guided Instilled Regard to a convincing victory in the January 15 Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds. And Castellano will have the option to ride more talented prospects from a deep Pletcher stable starting to pick up steam on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
As awesome as Audible performed, he must continue to move forward while stretching out in distance. Pletcher figures to use only one more prep, with the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby on March 31 being a logical option, and Audible hails from a hard-hitting Gilded Time mare who was a confirmed sprinter.
Transferring his brilliant form to longer distances isn’t a given but stamina influences exist further down his female family and Gilded Time hails from a What a Pleasure (sire of 1975 Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure) mare who counts 1970 Belmont Stakes winner High Echelon as a half-sister. Gilded Time was named champion 2-year-old male following his victory in the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) but is best known for being fast, just missing in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) following a 12-month layoff.
I’m not all-in with the Into Mischief colt but it would be foolish to dismiss Audible’s chances at longer distances after watching his late kick in the Holy Bull.
Free Drop Billy left the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) starting gate as the 7-1 second choice following a four-length tally in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland but didn’t fire at Del Mar, struggling home a well-beaten ninth in his 2-year-old finale. The Dale Romans trainee turned things around nicely in the Holy Bull, offering a fine middle move and generating a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating, and the Union Rags colt is eligible to keep advancing off an encouraging performance.
Tiz Mischief and Enticed, who were separated by a head in the November 25 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs, battled it out for minor awards far behind the top pair, with the former checking in 13 ¼ lengths back of Audible in third and 1 ½ lengths better than Enticed in fourth. Neither experienced a favorable trip – Tiz Mischief left himself too much to do from off the pace and Enticed was stuck in a less-than-enviable spot down on the rail – but the fact remains they did little to justify any optimism surrounding their Kentucky Derby chances. And the pressure will be on next time for an improved performance.
With Joe Bravo confident in the saddle, Avery Island advanced full of run to seize the lead on the far turn of the Withers and began to accelerate away from his four rivals while straightening for home. The Street Sense colt netted a 106 BRIS E2 Pace rating making a strong middle move but could not sustain his momentum to the wire, coming home slowly through the Aqueduct stretch.
Runner-up Firenze Fire and third-placer Marconi had little left as well for the final furlongs of the 1 1/8-mile Withers, enabling Avery Island to hold on by a two-length margin. His 94 BRIS Speed rating came back disappointing and he received only a 78 Late Pace number after requiring nearly 40 seconds to complete the final three-eighths of a mile.
Avery Island, who has made all five career starts in New York for Kiaran McLaughlin, recorded his first two wins including the one-mile Nashua (G2) in front-running fashion but switched to rating tactics and posted a 100 Late Pace figure finishing second in the Remsen (G2) in his juvenile finale.
The bay colt took advantage of his speed in the Withers, tracking in second behind a hopeless longshot, and connections have the option to wait until the final round of preps. However, plenty of time remains for two more races and the latter strategy prove more beneficial after a Withers performance that doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Firenze Fire stretched out to nine furlongs and lacked the late kick displayed in a trio of one-turn graded stakes victories. He could secure a Kentucky Derby berth via the March 10 Gotham (G3) at a one-turn mile but 1 ¼ miles doesn’t look like an optimal distance for him this spring.
Marconi is in a different boat from the top two finishers, making his first start against winners following a December 15 maiden triumph at Aqueduct, and understandably got tired after a tough trip in which he dropped too far back and came under an early ride to reach contention. After trying hard all the way to the wire, the Pletcher pupil figures to gain valuable seasoning and Marconi is eligible to improve rapidly at this stage of his career.
And considering sire Tapit has produced three of the last four winners of the Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown will be an option for the late-developing colt who counts 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Mucho Macho Man as a half-brother.
All nine sophomores were eligible for a non-winner of two lifetime condition and Lombo took advantage of a suspect Robert B. Lewis field lacking pace, dictating early terms on a short lead and drawing away to an insurmountable advantage in upper stretch. He began to weaken late despite moderate splits but had enough cushion to prevail by two lengths.
The 88 BRIS Speed rating came back light and 1 1/16 miles may prove to be the limit for Lombo, who needed more than 33 seconds to negotiate the final five-sixteenths and stopped the teletimer in 1:45.41. From the first crop of Graydar, the dark gray colt is trained by Mike Pender.
Flavien Prat picked up the mount but bettors dismissed Lombo at 8-1 following a maiden sprint victory in which he came home slowly. Lombo has a number of speed influences in his female family.
“We’ve been training since November to get two turns,” Pender said. “I knew he had intense gate speed…I knew he was going to break right on the muscle today and take them as far as he could.”
Runner-up Ayacara has more upside as a Kentucky Derby prospect but has never run fast from four dirt starts (71-85-89-86 Speed figs). He dropped too far behind during the early stages of the Lewis, 11 ¼ lengths back in eighth after the opening quarter-mile, and belatedly reduced the margin to be a clear second.
From the initial crop of Violence, Ayacara was making his first start with blinkers and remains eligible to keep moving forward for Keith Desormeaux. And he’ll need to show much more to factor in upcoming preps like the San Felipe (G2) on March 10.
Other 3-year-olds of interest:
Strike Power improved to 2-for-2 with a convincing wire-to-wire tally in the February 3 Swale (G3) at Gulfstream and appears headed to a Kentucky Derby qualifier for Mark Hennig. The chestnut colt has dominated a pair of sprints, registering BRIS Speed ratings of 103 and 98, and the Speightstown colt could receive a dose of stamina from a route-oriented female family. He’ll bring plenty of speed to his next engagement.
Storm Runner stepped forward while switching back to dirt for Romans, notching a career-best 102 BRIS Speed rating winning an entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, but Mississippi kicked it in late to miss by only a neck from off the pace and the Pioneerof the Nile colt is probably the one to take away from this heat. Conditioned by Mark Casse, Mississippi is headed to stakes company after recording a commendable pair of fast-closing seconds versus allowance foes at Gulfstream.
Machismo graduated by an eye-catching 11 ½-length margin in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight on February 3 and easily posted a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating making his second start since being transferred to Anthony Quartarolo. After recording a pair of unplaced efforts at Saratoga for Pletcher, the More Than Ready colt sold for $140,000 at the Keeneland November sale and appears to be making excellent progress for his new connections. Out of a Smart Strike mare, Machismo is bred for longer distances on his dam side.
King Humor recorded a wire-to-wire score making his career debut in a 5 ½-furlong maiden on February 2 and the Distorted Humor colt is probably getting going too late to make a serious impact by May 5. But the speedy colt is out of a dam by long distance-sire Pleasant Tap and King Humor registered an excellent 100 BRIS Speed rating drawing off to a four-length decision for trainer Victor Barboza Jr.
After a close second to Transgress, Mitole did not disappoint logging a 10-length victory as the 2-5 favorite on February 3. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the Eskendereya colt received a career-best 97 BRIS Speed rating leading wire-to-wire in the 6-furlong race and Mitole is eligible to stretch out to two turns for a Kentucky Derby qualifier.
Title Ready is another 3-year-old in a deep Asmussen stable shopping for a stakes appearance following a sharp allowance tally in his two-turn debut, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths on February 1. The dark bay colt broke his maiden two starts previously at Keeneland and easily registered a career-best 94 BRIS Speed rating stretching out to 8 ½ furlongs here. By More Than Ready, the Charles FIpke homebred is out of mare by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and counts unbeaten champion and Broodmare of the Year Personal Ensign as his second maternal dam. Title Ready’s graded stakes-winning half-sister, Seeking the Title, is the dam of November’s Clark H. (G1) winner Seeking the Soul, who exits a fifth in the Pegasus World Cup (G1).
Exclamation Point showed speed from the start and drew off to win his unveiling by 2 ½ lengths on February 3. By Concord Point, the chestnut colt is a half-brother to 2016 champion 2-year-old male, Arkansas Derby (G1) hero and Preakness (G1) runner-up Classic Empire and the Brad Cox-trained colt received a decent 91 BRIS Speed rating making his first start at 6-furlongs.
Making his third career start on February 2, Restoring Hope broke his maiden by a widening 3 ½-length margin for Bob Baffert in this 1 1/16-mile tilt. By Giant’s Causeway, the dark bay colt displayed a fine finishing kick and is eligible to keep moving forward following the confidence-building score.
Curly’s Rocket may prove better suited for sprint/middle distances but broke his maiden in good order on February 3, graduating by a 3 ¼-length margin for Baffert. And it’s easy to look forward to the next appearance from stablemate Once on Whiskey, who dropped far off the pace in last down the backstretch and before offering a stout rally in the final furlongs to miss by only 3 ¼ lengths. The 6-furlong distance appeared to short for the Bodemeister colt and Once on Whiskey doesn’t figure to be a maiden for long.
Go Get the Munny looked good winning his career debut on a “good” track February 1, romping by 7 ¼ lengths, and received a 94 BRIS Speed rating in the 7-furlong test. Tom Morley trains the Munnings colt.
The Polytrack yielded a performance of note from Giant Honor, who broke his maiden by 12 ¼ lengths in a two-turn event on February 2. The To Honor and Serve colt has steadily improved in four starts for Pat Huffman but his 84 BRIS Speed came back light.
Remsen winner Catholic Boy tops a seven-horse field in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs and I’ll be disappointed to see him run poorly considering the competition. Vino Rosso looks like main challenger following a pair of easy wins over maiden rivals at Aqueduct and entry-level allowance foes at Tampa and John Velasquez will be in to ride the Pletcher trainee. And I’m interested to see how Septimius Severus fares following a non-threatening second to Impact Player at Gulfstream.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: Champion 2yo readying for 3/3 Fountain of Youth
- SOLOMINI: Curlin colt back working for Baffert; 3/10 San Felipe or Oaklawn route
- BOLT D’ORO: Multiple G1 winner adding Castellano for San Felipe
- INSTILLED REGARD: Smart Lecomte winner expected back for 2/17 Risen Star
- AUDIBLE: Looked like a major player romping in Holy Bull romp
- CATHOLIC BOY: Remsen winner returns in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis
- MCKINZIE: Baffert figures to keep brilliant Sham winner separate from Solomini
- FREE DROP BILLY: Plenty to like about Holy Bull runner-up
- COMBATANT: Expecting step forward in 2/19 Southwest
- COPPER BULLET: He’s back working from lengthy hiatus, Asmussen mulling possible targets
- MASK: Plenty of talent but hasn’t been two turns & sidelined by reported minor issue
- IMPACT PLAYER: City Zip colt appears to be coming on for Pletcher
- SPORTING CHANCE: G1 winner returns for Lukas in Southwest
- PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Tapit colt will try to rebound from Lecomte runner-up
- STRIKE POWER: Convincing Swale winner appears headed to a Derby qualifier
- MENDELSSOHN: Not a fan of international route but he could be a good one for O’Brien
- MOURINHO: Smarty Jones runaway scorer will be back for Southwest
- TITLE READY: More Than Ready colt making fine progress for Asmussen
- ENTICED: Kentucky Jockey Club victor disappointed as the Holy Bull favorite
- MARCONI: Long-term potential following third in stakes debut