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Submitted by John Conte on Friday, March 30, 2018 at 5:33 PM

Friday, March 30


The question that will be asked the most leading into Saturday's $1 Million, Grade 1 Florida Derby is, "do the rich get richer or will Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez share the Derby Prep Wealth?"

Once again trainer Todd Pletcher will send out another one of his deep Kentucky Derby prospects in the aptly named Audible.
Over the course of the last three Saturday's Pletcher has successfully called audible as he makes certain that he doesn't defeat the overall purpose by having his top Kentucky Derby contenders compete against each other.

On the previous two Saturday's Pletcher and Velazquez have teamed up to win the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park (3/17) with Magnum Moon and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (3/24) with Noble Indy.

Now it is the turn of Audible, the lightly raced son of Into Mischief, who was last seen winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes in impressive fashion 8 weeks ago.

So far, spotting his contenders has worked well for Pletcher and given his success in the Florida derby recently, it is understandable that Audible has been assigned morning line favoritism of 9-5.

For his part, Pletcher has won 3 of the last 4 Florida Derbies with Always Dreaming (2017 - Also Won Kentucky Derby), Materiality (2015 - 6th In Kentucky Derby) and Constitution (2014 - Did Not Run In Kentucky Derby.)

Pletcher's partner, John Velazquez has ridden 3 of the last 5 Florida Derby winners.

So if past results and "legacy" were what determined the winner of this year's Florida Derby, the other 8 colts are running for second place money and 40 qualifying points towards an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby.

As a 4 decade plus handicapper and player I can only say…"Oh That It Were Only That Easy."

Don't Forget…I'm On A Major Kentucky Derby Prep Run
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Let's take a look at some of the plusses and minuses of the 9 colts set to go to the post in the Florida Derby.

STRIKE POWER (4-1) - With Strike Power drawing the rail in the Florida Derby, it is likely red hot and meet leading jockey Luis Saez (7 winners on Thursday's card) will lay down the gauntlet to Promises Fulfilled. The latter out sprinted Strike Power when the two were one-two all the way around the oval in the Grade II Fountain of Youth in their last. Given that the FOY was only the third race of his career and his first around two turns there is reason to look for further improvement. And distance should not be of concern as the Speightstown colt is out of a stamina inducing Medaglia D'Oro mare.

MILLIONAIRE RUNNER (50-1) - Trainer Jaime Mejia has won 3 of 143 races heading into Thursday. The son of Warrior's Reward has never run a speed figure that comes within 19 lengths of the top 6 runners in here. The colt is still eligible for non-winners of 2 races lifetime after 10 starts. Seems a bit ambitiously placed.

TIP SHEET (30-1) - Another entering the deep end of the pool. Was beaten 22 lengths at 73-1 in the Holy Bull. At least the colt has a pair of thirds going two turns over the track in entry level allowance wins. But the colt is more likely in the race because local trainer Stanley Gold simply likes to run them.

PROMISES FULFILLED (4-1) - Was super impressive in his 2018 debut when he outgunned Strike Power in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. As you would expect, the son of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford is all about sustainable speed. If he moves forward off the Fountain of Youth he will be formidable again. It is also worth noting that his final juvenile test of 2017 was his third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a race that has produced, in addition to Promises Fulfilled, a number of sharp 2018 Derby Prep performances such as winners Enticed (Gotham), Quip (Tampa Bay Derby) and Bravazo (Risen Star) along with Lone Sailor (Louisiana Derby runner up) and Tiz Mischief (third place in the Holy Bull.) The Dale Romans trained colt could be this good. Interestingly, Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for the FOY win keeps his mount on longshot Hofburg for Bill Mot. But Dale Romans goes back to Robbie Albarado who was aboard for the colts two wins to begin his career.

STORM RUNNER (20-1) - Under normal handicapping applications one would be left puzzled as to why trainer Dale Romans, who also has Promises Fulfilled entered in the race would also have this son of Get Stormy. That sire is mostly a producer of sprinters, which is why a colt that might duel with Promises Fulfilled is going to run. The answer has to be that this is a nominated for the Kentucky Derby Team Valor colt who needs qualifying points. His last race is a toss as he was steadied early in the Fountain of Youth, reengaged, and tired late. His lightening morning drills before the FOY and especially since (a best of 46 bullet at 5 furlongs last Saturday) seem to indicate he'll be gunning early and add another piston to the race's collective engine. Intriguing.

CATHOLIC BOY (7-2) - The son of More Than Ready was all business as he wrapped up his juvenile campaign with a well rated daylight win in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in early December. The Jonathan Thomas trainee returned in the Sam Davis Stakes in his last, made a bold 3 wide rush a bit prematurely and was beaten a neck by the well-regarded Flameaway while ahead of Vino Rossi. The colt has worked forwardly over Bridlewood Farms training track in Ocala and has shown the kind of versatile stalking speed that has been a positive attribute for recent Florida derby Winners (see my 3/29 article on these pages.) It is not lost on this handicapper that trainer Thomas has switched from the sometimes over-aggressive Manny Franco to leading rider Irad Ortiz. He is another improving colt who adds to the depth of the field.

HOFBURG (20-1) - It doesn't get any better than Tapit bloodlines so it is not unreasonable to think that the last out Juddmonte Farms MSW winner deserves a shot at determining just where he is at. The Bill Mott trained colt did a nice job of maintaining position in the 1 1/16th mile test, especially since he broke from post 11. Unusually he has not drawn much attention at the windows in his two career starts and in both races he was a handful with a slow start in the debut and then a difficult loading process in the win. Nonetheless, Juddmonte and Mott plus the fact that Jose Ortiz stays with the colt should have us at least looking over our shoulders.

AUDIBLE (9-5) - I discussed the Pletcher factor earlier in this piece and it is likely that his Holy Bull performance will be enough to make him the slight favorite at post time. There has been a bit of naysaying based on what was seen as a pedestrian final workout by the colt. But Pletcher was quick to point out that Audible has seldom been a flashy morning worker and that he (Pletcher) sees the same consistency in the works that he saw prior to the Holy Bull. After breaking a bit slowly when sprinting in his debut, Audible has reeled off 3 straight margin wins going a one turn mile at Aqueduct twice and then the Holy Bull at two turns…which of course speaks to his versatility. He belongs in the upper echelons of Kentucky derby contenders and will be a handful on Saturday.

MISSISSIPPI (12-1) - Never one to rush his youngsters, trainer Mark Casse might have this son of Pioneerof the Nile set for his best career performance. The colt has run a pair of 1 1/16th mile allowance test her at Gulfstream. In the first he made his 3-year old debut, flashed speed and gave away the lead inside the sixteenth pole to none other than Noble Indy who was the impressive Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner last week. In his last he was taken back off the lead, had a measured rally from a stalking position and missed by a neck. The extra half furlong, the addition of blinkers and a series of solid once a week breezes at Palm Meadows could have Mississippi ready to flow past the finish line at just the right time.

FINAL NOTE: While I am not endorsing playing against the post time favorite, it is worth considering that the post time favorite has lost the last five running of the Florida derby. This does not mean you throw out the favorite. What it does mean, that in a race as competitive as this one appears, you should demand value. I can promise you one thing. That demand for value is a large part of how I will handicap this race.

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