Audible ran away in the stretch to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby on Saturday, further cementing himself as a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby.
An eight-week layoff was no problem for Audible, who will take a four-race winning streak into the Triple Crown campaign that starts at Churchill Downs on May 5. He finished the 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park in 1:49.48, and delivered the fifth Florida Derby win to both jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher.
And now, barring some sort of problem, it's off to Churchill Downs.
"If he comes out of it well, that's our goal," Pletcher said.
Recent history says that Audible will now have a great chance at the Kentucky Derby. Each of the last two Florida Derby winners — Always Dreaming last year and Nyquist in 2016 — went on to win the Run for the Roses.
Hofburg was second, Mississippi took third and Catholic Boy — the second choice in the betting behind only Audible, who was sent off at 8-5 odds — was fourth.
"I think we're all pleased," said Bill Mott, Hofburg's trainer. "Naturally, winning would have been the only thing that would have been better but he ran well and he galloped out well."
The win gave Audible 100 points in the Kentucky Derby standings, far more than enough to clinch his spot in the field. Hofburg is almost certainly assured a spot as well.
It was a big day for Audible — and maybe even a bigger day for Gulfstream Park, which had a record single-day handle of $49,909,070. That was $8 million more than any other day in Gulfstream history, and nearly $18 million more than Florida Derby day a year ago.
"A truly special day," Gulfstream Park general manager Bill Badgett said.
Promises Fulfilled, the Fountain of Youth winner at Gulfstream earlier this month, went right to the lead out of the gate, as did Strike Power. They set a blazing early fraction, while the other seven starters merely sat back and waited for the initial speed to fade.
Audible waited outside a cluster of four horses, and began his big move near the far turn.
By the time they were in the final straightaway, it was over.
"I was a little worried when they turned up the backside, because we got into the first turn in exactly the position we wanted to get into," Pletcher said. "And then he kind of fell back a little bit and I was a little bit worried because that's normally not Johnny's style to let one kind of drop back that far. But once he found his rhythm on the back side, I felt much better."
Audible returned $5.20, $4 and $3.
"I used him a little too much going into the first turn but by the time I got to the backstretch I had to give him a little break where he got to be comfortable again and then he started rolling," Velazquez said. "I was pretty happy after that."
There were six stakes races on Saturday's card, including the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks — where former Louisville coach Rick Pitino found himself in the winner's circle.
He's part of the ownership for Coach Rocks, which won the race and now will be heading to the Kentucky Oaks on May 4, the day before the Kentucky Derby.
Pitino, however, says he won't be there. He's vowed not to return to Kentucky because he's still upset over his firing by Louisville.
"I'm not going to go to Kentucky for the Oaks, but my partners are," Pitino said in the winner's circle. "But I feel absolutely awesome."