HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – When it comes to winning Kentucky Derby prep races, no one does it better than Todd Pletcher. When it comes to winning the Florida Derby, no one has ever done it better than Pletcher.
He extended his record by winning his fifth Florida Derby – his fourth in five years – when Audible rallied to defeat longshot Hofburg by three lengths on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Pletcher immediately began looking ahead to the first Saturday in May.
“This is shaping up to be a tremendous and exciting Derby,” he said. “This could be one that gets more attention than usual.”
Audible made it 2-for-2 this season when he followed his 5 ½-length romp in the Holy Bull Stakes with an equally emphatic performance in the Xpressbet Florida Derby. His success, with John Velazquez aboard for his fifth Florida Derby triumph, continued an extraordinary stretch for Pletcher.
It began with Magnum Moon, unraced at 2, making it 3-for 3 this season with an impressive score in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Then Noble Indy, who did not make his first start until he broke his maiden on Dec. 3, stepped up in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. And now Audible doubled up on his Holy Bull success.
“It’s been pretty fun,” said Pletcher. “When we came down here, we weren’t really sure where our 2-year-olds turning 3 were.”
With Magnum Moon, Noble Indy, and Audible having earned enough qualifying points to secure their places in an anticipated full, 20-horse Derby field, the winner of a record seven Eclipse Awards still hopes to have a couple of more horses advance with major prep races looming each of the next two weekends.
“We’re fortunate to have the ones we do,” Pletcher said. “The next one is super tough and it looks like a deep crop with some very impressive horses. We have to hope everyone stays healthy and handles the surface there.”
Pletcher’s previous four Florida Derby victors were Scat Daddy (2007), Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015) and, last year, Always Dreaming. Only the last of those went on to Kentucky Derby success as he gave the trainer his second triumph in the run for the roses among a record-tying 48 starters. Pletcher missed with his first 24 Derby runners before Super Saver broke through for him at Churchill Downs in 2010.
Pletcher handled everything perfectly with Audible in opting not to run him in the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes following his huge effort in the Holy Bull. “We felt he could make another move forward if we gave him some time between races,” he said.
The fans who packed Gulfstream Park came away almost equally impressed with Hofburg, who was making the leap to Grade 1 company in only his third career start with Jose Ortiz aboard. The son of Tapit had broken his maiden in his previous race, eking out a win by half a length on March 3 at Gulfstream.
It was quite a leap of faith for normally conservative trainer Bill Mott, one that was rewarded. The Florida Derby carried 170 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, awarding the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
That should provide Juddmonte Farms’ Hofburg a place in the Derby starting gate if Mott wishes to snag it.
“We’ve certainly got to think about that,” he said. “He ran well enough and galloped out good enough. I guess we’ve got to take everything into consideration, but we’re certainly not going to rule anything out at this point.”
Mississippi, also stepping up to Grade 1 competition for the first time, ran third. Highly regarded Catholic Boy ran a disappointing fourth.
They were followed by Millionaire Runner, Tip Sheet, Storm Runner, Strike Power, and Fountain of Youth victor Promises Fulfilled.
Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled engaged in a scorching early duel that was ruinous for both of them.
Trainer Jonathan Thomas did not offer any excuses for Catholic Boy.
“He had a great set-up,” Thomas said. “[Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.] thought he could go with Audible. But when he asked, I won’t say he floundered but he just didn’t go anywhere. He just kind of stayed on. He didn’t show the turn of foot I was hoping for.”
Audible completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.48. He was unable to secure a good position entering the first turn and took some time to settle into a good rhythm after that.
“I had to give him a little chance on the backstretch to regroup again,” Velazquez said. “Once he got his stride back together and when he started moving again on the backstretch, I was very happy with the way he was doing it.”
After that, it was a matter of time before Pletcher and Velazquez got the job done once more.