HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- 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 win streak into the Triple Crown campaign that starts May 5 at Churchill Downs. The 8-5 favorite finished the 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park in 1:49.48. It was the fifth Florida Derby win for both jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher.
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 have a great chance at the Kentucky Derby. The past two Florida Derby winners -- Always Dreaming last year and Nyquist in 2016 -- went on to win the Run for the Roses.
Hofburg was second, and Mississippi was third. Catholic Boy, the second choice in the betting, 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."