Todd Pletcher Again Uses Florida Derby as Springboard to Kentucky

Last year, trainer Todd Pletcher used the Florida Derby as Always Dreaming’s final Kentucky Derby prep race. He’ll try to duplicate last year’s success later today with Audible.

Audible (post 8, 9-5) is the morning line favorite and will be tough to beat. The son of Into Mischief came into his own last time out, winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in a professional manner, pressing the early pace before overtaking the favorite and pulling away by 5 1/2 lengths, posting a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. This February foal is rounding into form at the right time and has already shown he loves the footing at Gulfstream. He won’t be a price, but he is the likely winner.

He’ll have no shortage of competition today, however. Promises Fulfilled (post 4, 3-1) and Strike Power (post 1, 4-1) ran 1-2 in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park earlier this month in front-running fashion. Strike Power was second to Promises Fulfilled for essentially the entire race, and the two of them should again be the two early pacesetters. The favorite that day was Chad Brown’s Good Magic, who some had pegged as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby early this year but who simply didn’t fire. I doubt the two of them will be able to run away with this race again.

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who piloted Promises Fulfilled during that effort, jump off in order to ride another one of the main contenders, Catholic Boy (post 6, 7-2). Ortiz knows how to read a Racing Form just like the rest of us, and knows these horses better than anyone. Catholic Boy ran a close fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf before he began to try dirt in his first two starts of 2018. He posted impressive 91 and 92 Beyer Speed Figures, winning the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct and finishing a close second in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. He’s an April foal, so he should just be coming into his own, and with a significant rider upgrade he should be primed for his best showing of the year.

Of the longshots, Hofburg (post 7, 20-1) is the most intriguing to me. He has only run in two career races – one last September at Saratoga before taking a break and coming back in a maiden race on the Fountain of Youth undercard. He impressed under jockey Jose Ortiz, however, winning at 1 1/16 miles running 3-wide after acting up in the paddock, posting an 83 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. With a little seasoning and a better trip, this son of Tapit could be primed for an upset for trainer Bill Mott.

One final contender that can’t be left off your tickets is Mississippi (post 9, 12-1). Under Julien Leparoux, he’ll get a perfect stalking trip just to the outside of Audible. This son of PioneeroftTheNile, a half-brother to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was purchased for a handsome $700,000 as a 2-year-old, and has been consistent in his last three starts for trainer Mark Casse. With a step up in class today, I expect his performance to take a step up in class as well.

With a hot pace expected, I don’t see Promises Fulfilled or Strike Power lasting the 1 1/8 miles. Audible will have first crack, and Catholic Boy should be in the hunt as well. The pick here, however, is Mississippi, although Hofburg has a real shot. Mississippi to win, and I’ll box up Mississippi, Hofburg and Audible in an exacta.

Good luck at the races!

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