Stakes Winners Face Off in Million-Dollar Race
Off a big win of the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes, Audible has been named the morning line favorite for Saturday's 67th Xpressbet.com Florida Derby.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains 2018, the 9-5 morning-line favorite will try to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth win in the 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep. He saddled Florida Derby winners Always Dreaming (2017), Materiality (2015), Constitution (2014) and Scat Daddy (2007).
Pletcher saddled Always Dreaming for a dominating five-length victory that was followed by a 2 3/4-length score in the Kentucky Derby.
After capturing a pair of one-turn mile race at Aqueduct to conclude his 2017 campaign, Audible (photo by Lauren King) made the transition to two-turn racing in the Holy Bull. He pressed the pace before drawing off to 5 1/2-length triumph and fits the profile of many Florida Derby winners, said Pletcher.
“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,” said Pletcher. “He was able to find another gear.”
“The way he finished at a mile and a sixteenth you wouldn’t think a mile and an eighth would be an issue,” Pletcher said. “He still has to go out and do it. If he can duplicate that performance, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
John Velazquez, who rode Audible New York in November, replaces Javier Castellano aboard the Holy Bull winner, who drew post 8. Castellano is in Dubai for World Cup day on Saturday.
There is no lack of speed for Audible to stalk in the Florida Derby field, including Promised Fulfilled and Strike Power, who ran a front-running one-two in the March 3 Fountain of Youth. Trained by Dale Romans for Robert Baron, Promises Fulfilled scored by 2 1/4 lengths over previously undefeated Strike Power and 4 1/2 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Good Magic, the 2017 juvenile Eclipse Award winner. Strike Power will be back on Saturday, while Good Magic will make his final Kentucky Derby prep at another track.
Promises Fulfilled, a son of Shackleford, has set the pace in each of his four lifetime starts, including back-to-back victories to launch his career and a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last year.
“He’s just fast and he has great stamina to keep going. I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to hook him,” Romans said. “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.”
Robby Albarado, who was aboard for his first two career wins, returns to the saddle on the Kentucky-bred colt, who has been rated second in the morning line at 3-1 after drawing post 4.
Romans is also scheduled to saddle Storm Runner for a start in the Florida Derby after a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished seventh. Tyler Gaffalione has been named to ride he son of Get Stormy who previously won an optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream on Feb. 4. Storm Runner, rated at 20-1, drew post 5.
Courtlandt Farm’s Strike Power is a son of Speightstown that debuted on Dec. 23 with a spectacular eighth-length score at Gulfstream, recording a rare 100-plus debut Beyer Speed Figure while setting the pace in the 5 1/2-furlong maiden test. The Mark Hennig-trained-colt came right back to win the seven-furlong Swale in front-running fashion on Feb. 3.
“We anticipated maybe a little bit of regression after the big maiden win. When horses run that big a figure in their first start, they need a little spacing, but where we’re trying to get to, we didn’t have the luxury of waiting forever,” Hennig said. “While it would have been nice to wait a couple months before he ran, we wheeled him back in the Swale, which was a lot to ask of him. He handled that well.”
Strike Power failed to get the lead in the Fountain of Youth, in which he chased Promises Fulfilled to the wire but finished 2 1/4 lengths ahead of heavily favored Good Magic.
“It was a natural progression going from seven-eighths to a mile and a sixteenth. I thought he handled it well,” 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.”
Strike Power is 4-1 in the morning line after drawing the rail. Luis Saez, who clinched his second straight Championship Meet title, has the return mount aboard Strike Power.
Catholic Boy would be a likely beneficiary should a hotly contested early pace develop. The stretch-running son of More Than Ready has excelled on both turf and dirt while doing his best running late. After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in July and winning the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in August, the Jonathan Thomas-trained colt finished a troubled fourth in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a dominating 4 3/4-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen at Aqueduct in his first start on dirt.
Catholic Boy, owned by Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables and Siena Farm, finished second, a half-length behind front-running Flameaway, in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in his 3-year-old debut.
“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,” 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.”
Irad Ortiz Jr. is set to ride Catholic Boy, rated third at 7-2.in the morning line after drawing post 6.
Mississippi will make his stakes debut in the Florida Derby after being held off by Storm Runner in a Feb. 4 optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream. In his previous start, the son of Pioneerof the Nile finished second in a Feb. 4 optional claiming allowance, three-quarters of a length behind Noble Indy, who went on to capture last Saturday’s Louisiana Derby.
The Mark Casse-trained colt, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux from post 9, was purchased at the Fasig Tipton March sale at Gulfstream last year for $700,000 by John Oxley, M.V. Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Michael Jooste.
The remainde of the field:
Juddmonte Farms’ Hofburg, a son of Tapit who broke his maiden in front-running fashion in his 2018 debut for trainer Bill Mott at Gulfstream on March 3;
Arindel’s Tip Sheet, who finished sixth in the Holy Bull after a wide trip; and
Thoroughbred Champions Training Center’s Millionaire Runner.
The Florida Derby has produced the winners of 59 Triple Crown events from 44 starters in the 66 runnings of Gulfstream’s signature race for 3-year-olds. Saturday's card as seven stakes, five of them graded, worth $2.4 million in purses.
Saturday's feature drew a field of nine and will take on added significance for handicappers and bettors in search of a life-changing score. It is included in the six-race sequence (Races 9-14) for the Rainbow 6. A mandatory payout of the Rainbow 6 carryover jackpot pool, which currently stands at $4.4 million, is scheduled for Saturday, and if Gulfstream’s innovative wager continues to go unsolved Thursday and Friday, the total pool is expected to approach $20 million.
Guaranteed pools of $750,000 for the Late Pick 4 (Races 11-14) and $500,000 for the Late Pick 5 (Races 10-14) have also been scheduled.
First-race post time for the Florida Derby Day program is set for 11:30 a.m. Silks simulcast theater opens at 8.a.m. for Dubai World Cup Day simulcasts.
Edited Gulfstream Park release