Will Audible Win Again in the Florida Derby?

We've seen some impressive performances so far on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby. The showdown between McKinzie and Bolt d'Oro in the San Felipe comes quickly to mind, along with Justify's romping victories at Santa Anita and the clear-cut victory by Good Magic in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

But arguably no single moment on the Derby trail has impressed me more than the moment when Audible blew apart the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) on February 3rd with a tremendous burst of acceleration at the top of the Gulfstream Park homestretch. With this in mind, how can I side with any horse other than Audible in Saturday's $1,000,000 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream?

No matter how you slice it, Audible's Holy Bull effort was exceptional. The son of Into Mischief showed speed from the start, but was content to settle just off the early pace while tracking fractions of :23.59 and :47.14. He took command through six furlongs in 1:12 flat but was quickly confronted by the Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy, who loomed up alongside and appeared ready to roll by at any moment.

Instead, jockey Javier Castellano asked Audible to run and the colt left Free Drop Billy reeling through a :23.89 fourth quarter-mile and a final sixteenth in :06.03, stellar fractions for a two-turn dirt race. Needless to say, Audible drew off to win by 5 ½ lengths, with Free Drop Billy in turn nearly eight lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Even better, Audible's acceleration wasn't an optical illusion; it was a legitimate burst of speed at the end of the race, made even more impressive by the fact that the Holy Bull ended at the sixteenth pole, meaning that the majority of the Audible's impressive fourth quarter-mile time was recorded around the far turn, where it is more difficult to maintain a high rate of speed.

For his effort, Audible received a 99 Beyer speed figure, the highest number earned at a route distance by any horse in the Holy Bull field. It's fair to wonder if he can repeat that stellar performance in the Florida Derby, especially after two months on the sidelines, but it's not as though his Holy Bull effort came out of nowhere--he had won his two previous starts in impressive fashion, and notably, the Holy Bull was his first run in two months, so we know he can deliver a big run off that kind of rest.

I also think Audible is poised to work out an ideal trip on Saturday. Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power ran 1-2 in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream earlier this month, but they were able to get out in front through modest fractions that day and were essentially never challenged. With Strike Power drawing the rail in the Florida Derby, we could see jockey Luis Saez get a bit more aggressive in challenging Promises Fulfilled for command, possibly setting up a quicker pace. Mississippi, who finished second to future Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Noble Indy in a Gulfstream allowance race in January, also figures to contribute to the pace while wearing blinkers for the first time and breaking from the far outside post position.

Under these circumstances, Audible should be able to settle behind the leaders early on before pouncing in the homestretch, where I'm eager to see if he can display the same acceleration he showed in the Holy Bull. He won't have Javier Castellano in the saddle this time, but the Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez--who rode Audible to his maiden victory--should be a perfect replacement. This might not be the most creative opinion, but I believe Audible will win again in the Florida Derby.

If you're looking for a longshot to include in the exotics, I would consider Storm Runner. Although his pedigree suggests that turf might be his preferred surface, Storm Runner has proven superior on dirt thus far, joining the Derby trail with a hard-fought allowance win at Gulfstream on February 4th, in which he prevailed by a neck over Mississippi despite drifting around through the homestretch while carrying his head a bit high.

Storm Runner was soundly beaten when seventh in the Fountain of Youth last time out, but I think his performance was much better than the bare result suggests. Storm Runner had a pretty tough trip that day, racing in tight quarters along the rail for much of the race and getting shut off sharply when trying to rally up the inside on the backstretch.

Under the circumstances, I'm willing to forgive Storm Runner's disappointing finish and consider him a candidate to rebound. He signaled his readiness for the Florida Derby by breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59 flat on March 24th at Gulfstream, and with a better trip, I think he can finish on the board at a big price.

Catholic Boy began his career with success on turf but has proven equally proficient on dirt, winning the nine-furlong Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct by a dominant 4 ¾ lengths last December and finishing a close second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs last month. I liked his effort in the latter race since he endured a wide trip while chasing a modest pace and lost by just half a length to Flameaway, who came back to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), but the strength of the competition at Tampa Bay Downs this winter is still unclear and the transition from Tampa Bay Downs to Gulfstream Park is another hurdle for Catholic Boy to overcome. I'm not sure he'll be quite as effective over the main track at Gulfstream, though that doesn't mean he can't finish on the board, especially if a hot pace unfolds to set up his late run.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Florida Derby?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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