By Bob Ehalt
There are several different paths to the winner’s circle for the Kentucky Derby, and one in particular that has been the successful route.
Of all the preps races that prepare a horse for the rigors and grind of the Kentucky Derby, the Florida Derby is the race that has produced the most winners of the Run for the Roses.
The edition that put the Florida Derby over the top came last year when Always Dreaming won Florida’s definitive prep en route to a decisive victory in the Kentucky Derby, and became the 24th Florida Derby product to win the Run for the Roses.
Always Dreaming wound up as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, though that seems unlikely to happen this year. Nevertheless, Saturday’s race mile-and-an-eighth race at Gulfstream Park seems certain to produce a top contender for the opening leg of the Triple Crown.
The likely favorite is Audible, who is trained by Todd Pletcher, the winner of last year’s race with Always Dreaming. Audible has won three straight races, including the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park by 5 ½ lengths, and is a 9-5 favorite as Pletcher seeks a fifth win in the Florida Derby.
“What he has (which) has proven successful is enough tactical speed to put him in position. What was most impressive in the Holy Bull is how he kicked on after prompting solid fractions. He was able to find another gear,” Pletcher said. “The way he finished at a mile and a sixteenth (in the Holy Bull) you wouldn’t think a mile and an eighth would be an issue. He still has to go out and do it. If he can duplicate that performance it shouldn’t be a problem.”
The main challenger will be the fleet Promises Fulfilled (3-1), who captured the Fountain of Youth in front-running fashion in his last start.
“He’s just fast and he has great stamina to keep going. I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to hook him,” said trainer Dale Romans. “He can rate, but it’s not a matter of rating. He’s going to go to the lead. We’re not changing anything now.”
Catholic Boy (7-2) also figures to play a leading role in the outcome. The son of More Than Ready, who started his career on turf, is coming off a second-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs that kicked off his 3-year-old season.
In his final start at two, Catholic Boy was victorious in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct for part-owner Robert LaPenta, a Connecticut resident, and trainer Jonathan Thomas.
“You’re kind of hoping a prep would be a little bit easy but we ran into Flameaway, who was on point and ran huge (in the Sam F. Davis),” Thomas said. “I felt like we gave up a little bit of ground chasing a fast pace. We were pecking at the pace a little bit. He ran well, ran hard, got a lot out of it. The timing is perfect from that race to this race.”
Strike Power (4-1) was second behind Promises Fulfilled in the Fountain of Youth and cannot be overlooked in Saturday’s test.
“The main thing (in the Fountain of Youth) is that I didn’t want him to get caught up in a speed duel and I thought he settled well. He settles well when you’re trying to work with him. I don’t know about rating in this spot. We’ll see how he breaks and see what happens,” trainer Mark Hennig.
The rest of the field includes Millionaire Runner (50-1), Tip Sheet (30-1), Storm Runner (20-1), Hofburg (20-1) and Mississippi (12-1).
A 20% bonus on Florida Derby doubles
The Florida Derby holds added meaning for Winners online and mobile customers as there will be an added 20 percent payoff on any doubles payouts involving the Florida Derby.