HALLANDALE BEACH – After scoring a resounding triumph in the Feb. 3 Holy Bull, Audible will seek to make even more noise on the Triple Crown trail Saturday in the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains 2018, the 9-5 morning-line favorite will be on a quest to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fifth career success in the 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep that will headline a card with seven stakes (five graded) worth $2.4 million in purses.
Pletcher, who has clinched his 15th consecutive Championship Meet training title, saddled Always Dreaming for a dominating five-length victory in last year’s Florida Derby that was followed by a 2 ¾-length score in the Kentucky Derby, which was won the previous year by Doug O’Neill-trained Florida Derby winner Nyquist.
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.
The Florida Derby, which drew a field of nine 3-year-olds, will take on even more significance for handicappers and bettors in search of a life-changing score Saturday, when the 67th running of the historic Triple Crown prep 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 today 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.
John Velazquez, who rode Audible for a victory in a New York-bred maiden race at Aqueduct in November, replaces Javier Castellano aboard the Holy Bull winner, who drew Post Position No. 8.
There is no lack of speed for Audible to stalk early in the Florida Derby field, especially with the presence of Promised Fulfilled, who captured the March 3 Fountain of Youth with a dominating front-running performance. Trained by Dale Romans for Robert Baron, the son of Shackleford scored by 2 ¼ lengths over previously undefeated Strike Power and 4 ½ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Good Magic, the 2017 juvenile Eclipse Award winner.
Promises Fulfilled 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 (G2) at Churchill Downs last year. 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 position No. 4.
Romans is also scheduled to saddle Storm Runner after a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished seventh. Tyler Gaffalione has been named to ride the son of Get Stormy who previously won an optional claiming allowance race at Gulfstream Feb. 4. Storm Runner, rated at 20-1, drew post No. 5.
Courtlandt Farm’s Strike Power is another entrant who is likely to ensure a lively pace. The son of Speightstown debuted 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 ½-furlong maiden test. The Mark Hennig-trained-colt came right back to win the seven-furlong Swale in front-running fashion Feb. 3.
Strike Power failed to get the lead in the Fountain of Youth, in which he chased Promises Fulfilled to the wire but finished 2 ¼ lengths ahead of heavily favored Good Magic. Strike Power was rated at 4-1 in the morning line after drawing the No. 1 Post Position. Luis Saez, who clinched his second straight Championship Meet title, has the return mount aboard Strike Power.
Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables and Siena Farm’s 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 at Saratoga in August, the Jonathan Thomas-trained colt finished a troubled fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a dominating 4 ¾-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen at Aqueduct in his first start on dirt.
Catholic Boy finished second, a half-length behind front-running Flameaway, in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs in his 3-year-old debut. Irad Ortiz Jr. is set to ride Catholic Boy, rated third at 7-2 in the morning line after drawing post No. 6 for the first time Saturday.
Mississippi is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the Florida Derby after being nosed ut by Storm Runner in a Feb. 4 optional claiming allowance 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 at Fair Grounds.
The Mark Casse-trained colt, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux from post No. 9, was a Fasig Tipton March sale at Gulfstream last year for $700,000 by John Oxley, M.V. Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Michael Jooste.
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 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 round out the field.