Audible winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) - Photo by Adam Coglianese Photography

Audible winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) – Photo by Adam Coglianese Photography

While there’s still five weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby, it appears that the two-time Derby-winning trainer Todd Pletcher is going to hold a very strong hand in the 2018 renewal of the race.

Pletcher already has Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Noble Indy and Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Magnum Moon targeting the race, and on Saturday Pletcher showcased arguably his best prospect yet when sending out Audible to score a convincing victory in the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.

Audible has never shown much during morning training and didn’t catch many eyes with his pre-race workouts, but that didn’t stop the impressive Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) winner from demonstrating his authority in the Florida Derby. With John Velazquez in the saddle, Audible got off to a good start but was content to settle near the back of the pack early on as the front-running pair of Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power raced away from the field, dueling hard through a remarkable opening quarter-mile in :21.95 seconds and a half-mile in :46.37.

At that point, Audible had just one horse beaten and was more than eight lengths off the pace, but rounding the far turn he began to advance on the outside, and when the leaders came to a halt Audible rolled by and cruised to a clear lead in the homestretch. The late-running maiden winner Hofburg, trained by Bill Mott, tried to stay with him in the final furlong, but Audible was clearly best in the end, coming home three lengths in front while stopping the clock in a solid 1:49.48 seconds, good enough for an eye-catching 107 BRIS speed figure.

While the pace certainly fell apart halfway through the race, Audible and Hofburg deserve credit for maintaining a solid speed through the final three furlongs, with Audible clocking the distance in :37.51 while Hofburg came home in :37.80. I was also impressed by the way Audible completely relaxed early on, showcasing versatility that could be very useful in the Kentucky Derby. Even better, Audible is still a fresh horse and the Derby will mark just his third start of the year, an angle that has produced eight of the last eleven Derby winners.

The rest of the runners finished far back, with Mississippi performing best to run third, 7 ¾ lengths behind Hofburg. While Mississippi doesn’t have enough points to qualify for the Derby, he deserves some credit for being the only horse remotely close to the early pace to hang around for a respectable finish. Catholic Boy, winner of the Remsen Stakes, ran a fairly even race to finish fourth, but lacked the acceleration he needed in the homestretch and could now have difficulty qualifying to the Derby.

What are your takeaways from the Florida Derby?