Recent trends bode well for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, the connections behind Audible in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.
The fabulously successful duo have teamed up the last two weekends to win the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park with Magnum Moon and TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds with Noble Indy. The two, individually and collectively, have also been hard to beat in the Florida Derby in recent years. Pletcher has saddled three of the last four winners of the Derby, while Velazquez has ridden three of the last five winners.
Gulfstream Park’s signature event is, of course, a premier Kentucky Derby (G1) prep that will dish out qualifying points of 100-40-20-10 to its top four finishers when it caps a 14-race program also highlighted (unless it is hit either Thursday or Friday) by a multi-million dollar Rainbow 6 carryover. Always Dreaming and Nyquist the past two years made Gulfstream their final pit stop before success at Churchill Downs, while Orb also turned the Derby double in 2013.
One trend working against Audible is that none of the past five winners started as the post-time favorite, which Audible is likely to be following an explosive victory when last seen February 3 in the Holy Bull (G2). It was the Into Mischief colt’s third win in succession following a maiden win against New York-breds and an open company allowance score, both at Aqueduct.
“What he has that, over the years, has proven successful is enough tactical speed to put him in position. What was most impressive in the Holy Bull is how he kicked on after prompting solid fractions,” Pletcher said. “He was able to find another gear.”
Audible breaks from post 8 in the nine-horse field. The pace likely to be provided by Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power, who ran one-two all the way around the track in last month’s Fountain of Youth (G2). Making his first start since the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November, Promises Fulfilled took a lead many expected to be held by the quick sprinter Strike Power, who instead settled back in the 1 1/16-mile test.
“He’s just fast and he has great stamina to keep going. I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to hook him,” said trainer Dale Romans of Promises Fulfilled. “He can rate, but it’s not a matter of rating. He’s going to go to the lead. We’re not changing anything now.”
Strike Power, who was two-for-two with a score in the seven-furlong Swale (G3) prior to the Fountain of Youth, breaks from post 1 in the Florida Derby.
“It was a natural progression going from seven-eighths to a mile and a sixteenth. I thought he handled it well,” trainer Mark Hennig said. “The main thing I didn’t want him to do was to get caught up in a speed duel and I thought he settled well. He settles well when you’re trying to work with him. I don’t know about rating in this spot. We’ll see how he breaks and see what happens.”
Remsen (G2) winner Catholic Boy will make his second start of the season Saturday after finishing a half-length second to Flameaway as an odds-on favorite in the February 10 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
“You’re kind of hoping a prep would be a little bit easy but we ran into Flameaway, who was on point and ran huge,” trainer Jonathan Thomas said. “I felt like we gave up a little bit of ground chasing a fast pace. We were pecking at the pace a little bit. He ran well, ran hard, got a lot out of it. The timing is perfect from that race to this race.”
Mississippi enters off back-to-back seconds in allowance company, one to Noble Indy and the other to the Romans-trained Storm Runner, who subsequently faded to seventh in the Fountain of Youth. Hofburg, a Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Tapit, is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winning filly Emollient and steps up off a maiden win on the Fountain of Youth undercard.
The field is rounded out by longshots Millionaire Runner and Tip Sheet.