Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the three Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve preps that were run on Saturday: the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, the $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct; and the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
AUDIBLE FOR AUDIBLE: Trainer Todd Pletcher’s initial plan for Audible called for him to compete against New York-breds in a stakes race at Aqueduct. An extended stretch of severe winter weather in New York led the colt to be shipped instead to Florida, where he trained so forwardly that the Holy Bull became his next target. The son of Into Mischief handled the Grade 2 contest with shocking ease, controlling the 1 1/16-mile contest by 5 ½ lengths. Jockey Javier Castellano expects Audible to flourish as the distances increase. “The way he galloped out was amazing,” Castellano said. “I look forward to his next race.”
MATURING AVERY ISLAND: A 3-year-old’s responsiveness to his rider is among the keys as the buildup to the Kentucky Derby intensifies. That is why trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was so pleased with Avery Island’s two-length decision against Firenze Fire in the 1 1/8-mile Withers at Aqueduct. When Coltandmississippi displayed surprising early foot, jockey Joe Bravo was able to throttle down Avery Island’s speed and bide his time in second until it was time to pounce. “It looked like he was push button,” McLaughlin said. “It was great that he switched off that quick and then switched back on.”
SPEEDY LOMBO: Lombo responded to his first attempt at two turns with a handy two-length victory against resurgent Ayacara in the 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes. The first graded stakes winner sired by Graydar flashed serious speed, just as he had when he won a 6 ½-furlong contest at Santa Anita on Jan. 20 for owner Mike Lombardi and trainer Mike Pender. Lombo repelled threats from Dark Vader, Shivermetimbers and Inscom for jockey Flavien Prat. It also is worth noting that Dark Vader was the only early challenger not to weaken terribly. He salvaged third.
ENCOURAGING THIRD: Marconi, a $2 million yearling purchase at Keeneland’s 2016 September sale, is worth keeping an eye on following his third-place finish in the Withers. The gray son of Tapit was making only his third start and he was unable to overcome a sluggish beginning at speed-favoring Aqueduct. “(The track) didn’t favor the way my horse runs. He had to do too much,” said jockey Manuel Franco. “But he is improving. He is a nice horse. You guys are going to hear a lot about him.”
WRONG MOVE: Even Hall of Famers make mistakes. Although Peace did not wear blinkers when he broke his maiden on Dec. 30, jockey Mike Smith thought the addition of that equipment might improve the youngster’s ability to concentrate. Trainer Richard Mandella, another Hall of Famer, saw merit to the suggestion and made the change for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. The Violence colt apparently resented the blinkers because he was not at all himself. He dropped far back finished fifth in a field of nine, never responding to Smith’s persistent urging.