The field is set for nine hopefuls in the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Florida Derby on Saturday. The race will serve as the highlight of Gulfstream Park’s winter meeting on a card that features six other stakes races. If that isn’t enough to get you excited, there will be a mandatory payout in the Rainbow 6 for a total pool that could exceed over $20 million! This is setting up to be one of the biggest days in Gulfstream Park history.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won last year with the eventual Kentucky Derby champion Always Dreaming, will look to strike gold again when he sends out the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes winner Audible. Immediately after his romp, Pletcher stated that the Florida Derby would be Audible’s main goal. Leading up to the race, several clockers and handicappers have been skeptical with how Audible has looked in the mornings, but Pletcher explained that he’s not a flashy workhorse.
“I thought it was a standard Audible work,” said Pletcher, who trains the New York-bred for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing. “He’s not an overzealous workhorse, but he put in a nice 49 (seconds) on a track that isn’t playing particularly fast. He galloped out with some enthusiasm. He seems like he’s training consistently with the way he was training up to the Holy Bull and some of his other races. He seems like he’s had a good time since the Holy Bull. He seems to be coming up to the Florida Derby in good order.”
The race has also drawn Promises Fulfilled, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. The Dale Romans-trained son of Shackleford went to the front and ran his foes off of their feet to win in wire-to-wire fashion. Romans is always high on his horses, but he seems to be over the moon about how this horse has been doing.
“I think he’s 3 lengths away from being the favorite for the Derby right now,” said Romans, referring to the colt’s troubled trip in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club last fall. “He’d be four-for-four, which he very much should have been. It’s been a great winter for him. Hopefully, he’ll go out with a bang.”
Catholic Boy is another that adds major intrigue to the race. Having already picked up a win at this distance in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes last year at Aqueduct, he lost his 3-year-old debut to Flameaway in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. However, he’s working out strongly heading into this race, and his final work over the Gulfstream Park surface seemed to really please his trainer, Jonathan Thomas.
“We were looking for something for him to get into a good rhythm and let the work open up time-wise,” Thomas said. “They went in :24 and change, and then finished up the last 1/4 in :24 and galloped out the 5/8 nicely in 1:01 and change. Then, I wanted to be careful and shut it down, because the horse tends to gallop out pretty strong. You have to be a little careful, because a 1/2-mile work could quickly turn into a 3/4-mile work with him.”
The field from the rail out: Strike Power, Millionaire Runner, Tip Sheet, Promises Fulfilled, Storm Runner, Catholic Boy, Hofburg, Audible, and Mississippi.
#6 Catholic Boy – I’m looking to play the “bounce back” angle with him here after he disappointed a bit in the Sam F. Davis. I quickly dismissed Catholic Boy after that race, but recent events have forced me to change my outlook just a bit. Flameaway, the horse that beat him in the Sam F. Davis, came back to run a solid second in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, which proves that he’s a somewhat legit horse. Then, if you look at Catholic Boy’s recent workouts, there’s no doubt that he’s coming into this race in top form. He also already owns a victory at this distance. All those factors are major positives, and he drew a perfect post position. At 7/2 morning line, he is the play to win; that price is just too tempting for a horse that has done everything right since losing.
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#8 Audible – This horse has certainly been a mixed bag, no matter how you look at him. During morning workouts, he doesn’t impress in the least bit, but he was absolutely awesome last time out when dominating the Holy Bull. It’s strange that he began the year with Pletcher’s New York-based string because Pletcher’s best 3-year-olds are usually in Florida to start the year. Perhaps this is a late-developing horse, or maybe his lackluster morning works fooled Pletcher. Either way, he comes into this spot as the one to beat, and you’d have to be a lunatic to leave him off of your Rainbow 6 or Pick 4 tickets. As far as betting a win ticket goes, he might be a bit over-bet, though, which made Catholic Boy just a bit more appealing.
#4 Promises Fulfilled – It’s hard to say whether his wire-to wire-win in the Fountain of Youth was legit, or if he just took advantage of a track that favored speed horses all day long. You have to like how he dug in when Strike Power came with a challenge in that race, but you also have to keep in the back of your mind that Strike Power might really be a sprinter that doesn’t want to go two turns. At this point, I semi-believe in this horse, but I certainly don’t want him knocking me out of the Rainbow 6 or Pick 4. He’ll be on my tickets for that reason, but won’t be surprised if this goes either way for him.
#1 Strike Power – With this rail draw, there’s only one thing to do: send him to the front! That will be Strike Power’s best chance of winning, and on most days, Gulfstream Park favors speed in a major way. This horse is probably better when going one turn, but if allowed to be loose on the lead, he could be very dangerous. He will likely turn for home up front, but I’m not sure that he can hold steady all the way to the wire. Perhaps he holds on for a piece underneath.
#7 Hofburg – After breaking his maiden last time out by a 1/2-length over this track, he now jumps into the deep end of the pool. It’s understandable that his connections have elected to take a shot with him in this race because it came up easier than in years past, but he’s still going to need to improve quite a bit in order to have a shot at winning. However, this isn’t a typical move for trainer Bill Mott, who seems to have a calm confidence about this horse heading into the race. He’s bred to be a star, so this could be a situation where he’s developed at the right time. I’m not sure that he can pull off a win, but at a big price, he might be worth having on a few tickets.
#9 Mississippi – While this horse has more talent than the other horses that I’ve thrown out, he needs everything to go perfectly for him in a race like this, and drawing outside is not ideal. Maybe he can jump up and hit the board at a nice price, but I prefer other longshots just a bit more.
#5 Storm Runner – Much has been made about his poor trip in the Fountain Of Youth, but overall, I’m not sure it cost him as much as people want to believe. Yes, he did lose valuable positioning up the backside, but he was completely empty when heading into the turn, where he looked like he hit a wall. He has a lot of proving to do for me in this spot, and I can’t back him until he shows me something.
#3 Tip Sheet – He finished sixth in the Holy Bull while losing by 20 lengths to Audible. That doesn’t bode well for his chances here, and in his last start, he was third against slightly above-average allowance company.
#2 Millionaire Runner – He’s the ultimate longshot that hasn’t really done enough to warrant much thought. He looks completely overmatched and has just one win in 10 lifetime starts.