Making the Grade, which will run through the 2018 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.
The old adage in sports, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” rings true in a couple of ways when it comes to the Triple Crown. First, horses who run well at 2 or very early in their 3-year-old season often fizzle out by the final round prep races for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. And second, 3-year-olds who have the ability to run fast late in races frequently stamp themselves as legitimate contenders. Audible is just beginning to find his groove and proved he can finish fast in the Holy Bull, so let’s take a closer look.
Ability: A $500,000 purchase at a 2-year-olds in training auction in March 2017, Audible made his debut on Sept. 27 at Belmont Park in a race that was pretty easy to overlook. He dropped way out of the race — probably more than 20 lengths but at least 19 ½ lengths according to the official Equibase chart — and looked destined to be a nonfactor. But he came running at the end and passed five horses late to finish third, making up more than 15 lengths in a little more than a quarter-mile.
Audible earned a respectable 82 Equibase Speed Figure for his debut and was sent off as the heavy favorite in his second start, once again facing New York-bred maidens but this time stretching out from a sprint at Belmont to one mile at Aqueduct. He again dropped back to second to last early but stayed in touch with the leaders, within five lengths of the pace. Despite racing wide throughout, he finished resolutely to overhaul runner-up Honor Up for a 1 ¾-length win and an improvement to an 89 Equibase Speed Figure.
Audible stepped out of races restricted to New York-breds for his third race but faced only three horses at Aqueduct. He showed more early speed, stalking pacesetter Crea’s Bklyn Law early in the one-mile race before settling in a few lengths off the leader. Audible accelerated willingly when given his cue, seized control in early stretch, and pulled away to win by 9 ¾ lengths as the overwhelming favorite. He improved his Equibase Speed Figure by 10 points to a new career-best 99.
“We felt like he wanted more ground and he kind of showed that in his first race when he didn’t get away real quickly and retreated when the dirt hit him in the face and then rallied with a pretty strong effort,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Then he came back and won two pretty impressive races after that, so we felt like more distance was definitely what he was looking for.”
The third betting choice for his stakes debut in the Holy Bull, Audible took a major step forward. He again showed more early speed as he pressed the pace through an opening quarter-mile in :23.59 before settling in third behind leader Master Manipulator and Aequor. He rallied boldly on the turn and took a clear lead in the stretch, pulling away with every step despite racing very greenly and switching leads back and forth late in the race. He finished his final sixteenth of a mile in an eye-catching 6.03 seconds which followed another strong quarter-mile in :23.89.
I thought the 97 Equibase Speed Figure came up light for a 3-year-old who finished that well in a final time (1:41.92) that was less than a second off the track record. There are plenty of variables that go into speed-figure calculations that are above my pay grade, but I do think he ran better than credited. I love 3-year-olds who show they can race close to a solid pace and still finish fast.
“The way he galloped out was amazing,” winning jockey Javier Castellano said.
Pletcher said Audible came out of the race in good order, and he and the ownership group are considering training him up to the Grade 1 Florida Derby or perhaps running him in two more Derby prep races.
Running style: Audible has shown the ability to drop off the pace and make one big run, but it appears that was mostly because he didn’t like racing behind horses. In his two most recent starts, he shown more early speed, and I’d expect him to settle in as a stalker type who can press a slow pace or drop a few lengths off a swifter tempo. He seems very willing to respond to his jockey’s commands.
Connections: Audible is owned by the partnership of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and SF Racing, the same triumvirate that raced 2017 Southwest Stakes winner One Liner and campaigns, in partnership with Head of Plains, graded stakes winner Good Samaritan.
WinStar Farm, owned and co-founded by Kenny Troutt, won the Eclipse Award as outstanding owner in 2010 and outstanding breeder in 2016. WinStar also has a terrific resume in Triple Crown races. WinStar homebred Super Saver prevailed in the 2010 Kentucky Derby and Drosselmeyer won the 2010 Belmont Stakes and 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic. WinStar also owned 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator in partnership and bred 2003 dual classic winner and champion Funny Cide.
The China Horse Club was founded by Teo Ah Khing, the architect who designed Meydan racecourse in Dubai during which time he developed a passion for horse racing. China Horse Club is frequent partners with WinStar and has become a major owner in the industry in a short period of time.
SF (Soros Fund) Bloodstock is a bloodstock and racing operation founded by Gavin Murphy and operated by Murphy, Tom Ryan, and Henry Field.
Seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher trains Audible. Pletcher is the all-time leading trainer by purse earnings with more than $351.8 million. He earned his fourth win in a Triple Crown race in 2017 when Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby and tacked on a fifth when Tapwrit later won the Belmont Stakes. He also won the Kentucky Derby in 2010 with Super Saver and the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches in 2007 and Palace Malice in 2013.
Jockey Javier Castellano currently ranks third among jockeys all time by purse earnings with more than $297.9 million. He won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey four straight years from 2013-2016 and has two wins in Triple Crown races to date: Coud Computing, 2017 Preakness Stakes; Bernardini, 2006 Preakness. Castellano has finished second in the Belmont Stakes three times.
Pedigree: Audible is from the sixth crop of Into Mischief, who won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at 1 1/16 miles as a 2-year-old in his only try navigating two turns. Quite a few of Into Mischief’s best runners have been dirt milers capable of stretching out a bit in distance but probably not best-suited to 1 ¼ miles — two-time Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents, Grade 1 winner Practical Joke, and multiple graded stakes winner Vyjack come to mind.
Audible’s dam (mother), Blue Devil Bel, by Gilded Time, was a pure sprinter who won seven of 20 career starts with victories ranging from five-eighths of a mile to three-quarters of a mile.
Audible’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Fahamore, was unplaced in one start, but produced Blue Devil Bel’s half-sibling (same dam, different sire) Akilina, a multiple stakes winner at one mile. Third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Cathy’s Gal, by Easy Goer, won a seven-furlong race in her only victory in four starts.
This family is anchored by 1986 Alabama Stakes winner Classy Cathy, Audible’s fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother).
From a pedigree perspective, I’d really like to see a few more stamina influences on the bottom half to help Audible’s chances at running well going 1 ¼ miles, but Audible sure looked strong and finished fast in the Holy Bull stretch. Plenty of horses have outrun their pedigrees in the last decade on the Triple Crown trail, but I do think it’s more likely stamina rather than talent catches up to Audible in the Kentucky Derby stretch. He looks like a terrific prospect, but whether or not he can be great at 1 ¼ miles remains to be seen.