The Grade 1 Florida Derby attracts a few of the top three-year-olds in the nation and features the winners of the two major Florida preps for this race. Impressive Holy Bull winner Audible faces off against recent Fountain of Youth conqueror Promises Fulfilled, as 2017 Remsen winner Catholic Boy looks to get his three-year-old campaign back on track.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace due to the presence of key speeds Strike Power (#1) and Promises Fulfilled (#4). They were the two main pace players in the Fountain of Youth, which was also predicted to feature a fast early tempo, yet the fractions proved to be moderate as Strike Power elected to rate off his rival. It will once again be a chess match between the riders of these two runners. Luis Saez may feel that his hand is forced since Strike Power has drawn the advantageous rail post position, and Promises Fulfilled’s connections may be curious to find out if he can rate off another horse prior to the first Saturday in May. If these two hook up at any point, it would clearly benefit Audible (#8) and Catholic Boy (#6), neither of whom would be that far off the early leaders.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, STRIKE POWER (4-1): He’s consistently been one of the fastest horses in this field, having earned TimeformUS Speed Figures ranging from 115 to 118 in his three career starts. We know that he possesses a great deal of speed, but stamina has been a question since the start of his career. This nine-furlong test should provide plenty of answers about how far he truly wants to go. While he did successfully negotiate two turns last time out in the Fountain of Youth, the nature of that race played to his strengths. The 1 1/16 mile configuration on Gulfstream’s main track typically favors speed types due to the short run to the first turn and abbreviated final stretch. Furthermore, the moderate early pace of that Fountain of Youth appeared to hinder closers, as the top three finishers ran the entire race in their respective positions. Supporters of Strike Power may point to the fact that many of the runners in his female family raced at route distances on the turf. However, turf route proficiency does not always translate to stamina in progeny, and I get the sense that Strike Power is more likely to take after his sire, Speightstown. Strike Power’s ample talent should carry him a long way in this race, but I view others as far more likely win candidates.
#2, MILLIONAIRE RUNNER (50-1): This colt was overmatched against allowance company last time out and appears to be a hopeless longshot.
#3, TIP SHEET (30-1): He did encounter significant trouble in that most recent allowance race, but that came against far weaker foes. He was badly overmatched in the Holy Bull two back and this race came up even tougher. At best, I’d use him on the bottom rung of superfectas in case of a pace meltdown.
#4, PROMISES FULFILLED (3-1): He benefitted from aggressive handling out of the gate last time, as Irad Ortiz was able to hustle him to the lead from his outside post position – no minor feat in a 1 1/16-mile races at Gulfstream. From there, it was clear sailing, as his main pace rival Strike Power applied only token pressure early and could not muster a serious stretch challenge. While the pace of the Fountain of Youth was not necessarily “slow,” front-runners like Promises Fulfilled are always dangerous when allowed to secure an uncontested early lead.
Whether or not such an early advantage will be afforded to Promises Fulfilled this time depends largely on the tactics of Luis Saez aboard Strike Power. Yet even if Promises Fulfilled shakes free from his pace rival and repeats his last race, he may still find Catholic Boy and Audible better suited to this nine-furlong distance. Promises Fulfilled faded at the end of the Kentucky Jockey Club as a two-year-old after a pair of sprint wins and was aided by favorable circumstances last time. In my opinion, he still must prove his stamina and I’m not interested in betting him as the second choice in this race.
#5, STORM RUNNER (20-1): I suppose he’s the so-called “trip horse” out of the Fountain of Youth after Joel Rosario unsuccessfully attempted to move up inside of Promises Fulfilled on the backstretch before steadying. Storm Runner now gets the 7th new rider of his 8-race career, which could be cause for concern. He seems like a particularly difficult horse to control, as he has a tendency to get rank midway through his races and trick his riders into making premature moves to the lead. He was able to get away with it two back against allowance company, but is unlikely to do so against this classy group.
#6, CATHOLIC BOY (7-2): Catholic Boy comes into this Florida Derby with something prove, after his only prior start as a three-year-old ended in disappointment. On the surface, his 3-5 loss in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs looks discouraging. However, a closer examination of the dynamics of that race reveals that Catholic Boy actually ran quite well within the context of that event. The early pace of the Davis was quite slow (indicated by blue color-coded pace figures in his past performances), and Catholic Boy was therefore forced to make an early move into contention on the backstretch while racing wide. His chief rival Flameaway was the one setting the pace while saving ground racing inside. All things considered, Catholic Boy did well to issue his mid-stretch challenge and should not be penalized too harshly for falling short in the end.
Catholic Boy comes into the race as the only horse to have earned two competitive speed figures in two-turn races, whereas his main rivals’ credentials hinge largely upon the strength of a single performance. Catholic Boy raced as a closer in his turf races as a juvenile, but has shown good tactical speed in each of his dirt starts. Therefore, I’m not concerned about him dropping too far off the pace if the early tempo is moderate. At anything around his morning line price of 7-2, I think he’ll offer the best value of the main players.
#7, HOFBURG (20-1): This is likely too much to ask of such a lightly-raced colt, but I do not want to discount what this runner accomplished in his maiden win last time out. It is incredibly difficult to win a 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream breaking from the outside post in an 11-horse field. Not only did Hofburg lose ground heading into the clubhouse turn, but he raced wide every step of the way thereafter. He made a decisive move to take command in the stretch before idling late. This half-brother to dual-surface Grade 1 winner Emollient clearly has a right to turn into a top three-year-old off the strength of that performance. However, Bill Mott does not have very strong numbers with horses coming off maiden wins in dirt routes and he’s picked an awfully tough assignment for his first start against winners. I’ll nevertheless use him underneath in exotics.
#8, AUDIBLE (9-5): He was all the rage in the immediate aftermath of the Holy Bull, but much has changed since then as a multitude of interim prep races have altered the landscape. The 99 Beyer, and 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure, that he earned for that win no longer seem quite so extraordinary following the Fountain of Youth. Furthermore, subsequent performances by Free Drop Billy and Tiz Mischief, respectively second and third in the Holy Bull, have not flattered Audible’s win. Enticed did return out of his fourth-place finish in that race to win the Gotham, but many would argue that the best version of Enticed did not show up in that initial Gulfstream prep.
We are, however, left with the visual impression of Audible’s win. It would be fair to argue that no other three-year-old that has contested a Derby prep this season has matched the utter dominance of Audible’s Holy Bull. The manner in which Audible rocketed away from his rivals in deep stretch was truly awe inspiring. Say what you will about his soft trip or the pace of that race, but it’s still incredibly rare to see horses run the fourth quarter of a two-turn route race in under 24 seconds.
One unusual aspect to Audible’s acceleration is that it’s not instantaneous. In each of his last two wins, Javier Castellano had to ride him hard around the far turn in order to work him up to top gear. Yet once he reached that top late speed, he was able to maintain it through the final stretch. That steadiness bodes well for his prospects of getting nine furlongs, despite the fact that his pedigree suggests anything beyond a mile may be a stretch for him. I’m picking against Audible in this race due to the likelihood of a short price, but I will not be surprised to see him win again.
#9, MISSISSIPPI (12-1): This $700,000 son of Pioneerof the Nile has developed at a slower rate than his connections had hoped for this winter. While he’s run well in each of his two-turn starts against optional claiming company, he’s yet to significantly improve on last fall’s maiden victory. He was hardly disgraced when losing to eventual Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy two back, but few who observed that race would argue that Mississippi was anything more than merely second best. Then last time, he should have been able to run down Storm Runner in the late stages after that one launched an ill-advised middle move. His connections add blinkers to help focus him in this spot, but it feels like they’re grasping at straws with a horse that has yet to make any major strides forward this year. I’ll use him in exotics, but fellow up and comer Hofburg figures to offer better value.
I’m slightly against the pair exiting the Fountain of Youth and instead prefer Audible (#8) and Catholic Boy (#6). The former is indeed the horse to beat, but Catholic Boy figures to offer better value at anything close to his 7-2 morning line odds. He’s shown himself capable of handling the distance and figures to sit a great trip in midpack.
Exacta Box: 6,8
Trifecta: 6,8 with 6,8 with 1,3,4,7,9
Trifecta: 6,8 with 4,7,9 with 6,8