Impressed as he was with Audible’s performance in the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1), trainer Todd Pletcher was equally thrilled by how the colt bounced out of a powerful three-length victory that stamped him as a leading Triple Crown contender.
Pletcher checked in on his latest 3-year-old star early Easter Sunday morning, and found him doing as well as he looked after making the Florida Derby his fourth consecutive victory and second straight in a graded stake, following the Holy Bull (G2) Feb. 3 at Gulfstream.
“Excellent. He seemed to come out of it very well. We’re always anxious to see how they come out of it but we could tell back at the barn after the race, it seemed like his energy level was very good, he cooled out quickly and was pretty enthusiastic as he was walking around the barn. We felt pretty confident that he took the race well,” Pletcher said. “You love to see them recover quickly and he certainly did that, so that’s an encouraging sign.”
“I think the most important thing that he showed yesterday was that the stretch out to a mile and an eighth was no issue at all,” he added, “so that gives us confidence that going a mile and a quarter is also in his range.”
Pletcher, Gulfstream’s unprecedented 15-time defending Championship Meet-leading trainer, said WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners’ Audible will remain at Palm Beach Downs in Delay Beach, Fla. for the time being until plans for the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 5 are finalized.
Among his other Triple Crown contenders are Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, who broke his maiden Dec. 3 and won an optional claiming allowance Jan. 11 at Gulfstream; and Rebel (G2) winner Magnum Moon, whose maiden triumph came at Gulfstream in his career debut Jan. 13.
“I haven’t decided for sure. I’d like to have at least one breeze over the Churchill track, possibly two. We’ll just kind of play it by ear,” he said. “Last year I was planning on going three weeks out and, looking at the forecast, it looked like they had a week full of rain so we postponed it a week and that worked out well for Always Dreaming. We’ll just see how things are going.”
Audible gave Pletcher his fifth Florida Derby and fourth in five years, following Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015) and Always Dreaming (2017). Constitution missed the Triple Crown races with an injury but came back to win the 2015 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream, while Materiality ran sixth in the Derby and eighth in the Belmont (G1) before being retired.
Last year, Always Dreaming added to a Florida Derby legacy that has produced 44 starters through its first 66 runnings that went on to win a remarkable 59 Triple Crown events. Always Dreaming was the 24th horse to complete the Florida-Kentucky Derby double and third in five years, following Nyquist (2016) and Orb (2013).
“The Florida Derby has been such a successful route to take to the Kentucky Derby recently and I think part of that is the strength of the 3-year-old program at Gulfstream. I think it’s ideally placed on the calendar being five weeks out. It seems to have a lot of momentum because of that,” Pletcher said.
“I think anytime that you can win a Grade 1, it’s so important to a horse’s career especially a stallion prospect,” he added. “Ultimately I think that’s our most important job as a trainer and a stable is develop stallions for our owners. Fortunately we’ve been able to do that, so it’s of utmost importance.”
Pletcher also found success on the Florida Derby undercard with Hi Happy, a multiple Group 1 winner in his native Argentina who won for the first time in North America in the $250,000 Pan American (G2); Outplay, winner of the 2017 Curlin Stakes making his first stasrt since last fall in a second-level optional claiming allowance; and 3-year-old filly Legend Emma in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on the grass.
“Hi Happy came out in really good shape, as well. We were excited about running him a mile and a half. We felt like that’s what he was wanting to do and he’d been training very well coming into it. We were optimistic and glad that he delivered the kind of performance that we thought he was going to. I think we’ll probably go to New York for the Man o’War,” Pletcher said. “I thought Outplay ran super. He showed good tactical speed and I think it opened up some good possibilities for him. Now he’s won at three different distances … so I think that gives us a ton of options with him.”
For the second straight year, Pletcher plans to maintain a string of horses at Palm Beach Downs for Gulfstream’s spring-summer meet, which opens Thursday, April 5 and continues through Sunday, Sept. 30. He won the 2017 spring title with 28 wins.
“We’re going to keep quite a few here until probably after the [Kentucky] Derby when we get Saratoga open but we’ll just kind of play it as it comes along in terms of how many we keep here,” he said. “I’m glad to keep a stable open here year-round and see how it goes.”