By Paul Hundley (@vapaul67 on Twitter)
On May 5th, as many as 20 horses will try to win the most coveted race for 3 year olds in North America, The Kentucky Derby. It’s hard to blame owners of horses for getting “Derby Fever” by wanting to fulfill a dream of even just having a runner in the most recognized race in the U.S. While this produces several runners that probably have little chance of winning or even a good placing in the Derby, it can provide a rare opportunity to find value on horses that do have the talent and resume to win the Derby. I believe Audible not only belongs in this Derby, but is to me one of about 4 horses in here most likely to win on the First Saturday in May.
Audible brings a 5-4-0-1 record into Kentucky Derby 144. A very sluggish start in his debut where he got way behind early, he managed to rally for 3rd. After breaking maiden last year, romped in an Optional Claimer taken off the turf at Aqueduct. Audible made his 3 year old debut at Gulfstream Park in the 1 1/16th mile Holy Bull Stakes. Stalked the pace early, took over a half mile in and pulled away to a 5 1/2 length win. Was next seen in the Florida Derby on March 31, where he benefitted from a wicked pace battle between Strike Power and Promises Fulfilled. To his credit was able to adapt early, sitting further back than he did in Holy Bull, before pulling himself up to the leaders before stretch run despite going 4 wide and taking over to another impressive stakes win, this one by 3 lengths. These 2 races show the versatility of Audible, that he can be close to or off the pace. Another thing his tactical speed provides is the ability to put himself into a position to win, which is especially important in a race like the Kentucky Derby. A common misconception is that because the Derby is contested at a distance none of the horses have been before, it favors deep closers who will be doing their best running late. While closers have won the Derby(Orb, Mine That Bird, Street Sense, and Giacomo recently) most Derbies are won by being in position well before a deep stretch run. Most times the eventual Derby winner is either 1st or 2nd entering the stretch. Audible has been either 1st or 2nd in all of his 4 wins. If you’re still leaning towards late closers, consider this; Audible has BRIS Late Pace Figures over 100 in 4 of 5 races, including a 112 in the Holy Bull and 104 in the Florida Derby. What’s most impressive about these numbers is that they followed up solid mid 90’s E1 and E2 pace figures early on, showing that he can chase a solid pace and still have more than enough in the tank late.
Audible has already beaten a few runners he may face again on May 5th, which includes G1 winner Free Drop Billy in the Holy Bull by 5 1/2 lengths. Also beat multiple Grade 2 winner Enticed in that same win. Defeated Grade 2 winners Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power in the Florida Derby. Was 3 lengths ahead of Hofburg in that race, who himself was 7 lengths ahead of Mississippi, a fairly highly regarded horse himself, and could be one of the favorites in the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. Has also defeated talented colts such as Pony Up and Tiz Mischief. The most impressive thing about his competition isn’t necessarily the quality, but also quantity. Only Good Magic has defeated multiple fields bigger than what Audible has faced the last two races. Defeated 8 other horses in each Stakes win. While that certainly isn’t the same as facing 19 other horses in the starting gate, it shows he can handle other horses around him, a definite positive.
This will be the one area detractors of Audible will point to as proof he won’t win this year’s edition of The Run For The Roses. His sire, Into Mischief, has been very successful so far as a stallion, named Leading Sire of 2 year olds for 2016 and Leading Sire of 3 year olds for 2017. Was a talented racehorse himself, winning the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park as a 2 year old in only try at 2 turns. Injuries shortened his racing career, so we really don’t know what his distance limitations would be. Into Mischief has sired several notable runners, including Grade 1 winners Goldencents and Practical Joke, and multiple Graded Stakes winner Vicar’s In Trouble. The problem seems to be that his best runners ideal distance all seem to be around the 1 mile distance. Has not sired a runner to win a stakes beyond 9 furlongs, though has produced several 1 1/8 mile winners, including Goldencents win in the Santa Anita Derby 2013, Vicar’s 2014 Louisiana Derby win, plus Practical Joke was 2nd in last year’s Bluegrass Stakes, and 5th in Kentucky Derby despite breaking from Post 19. Audible’s Dam, Blue Devil Bel, won 7 races on the track, but none over 6 furlongs. His 2nd Dam Fahamore, by Gulch, is also the Dam of Akilina, who produced 2 Stakes winners in Rieno Tesoro and Governor Malibu, but again neither won past 9 furlongs. Audible’s 4th Dam Classy Cathy did win the 1 1/4 mile Alabama Stakes.
Jon White, who has been involved in the racing industry for over 50 years and currently works for XBTV as well as the Morning Line Maker for Santa Anita Park, has a Derby Strike System he uses every year to see which horses fit the best profile of a Derby winner. The list has 9 different categories, 1 strike doesn’t automatically disqualify a horse from serious contender consideration, but 2 strikes on the list make it very unlikely this horse will be wearing the roses on the First Saturday in May. To those unfamiliar with his strike system, here is a list of the categories:
1) EIGHTH POLE FACTOR: In either of the horse’s final 2 preps before the Derby, should have been either 1st or 2nd at the 1/8th mile pole. As stated earlier, most eventual Derby winners are either 1st or 2nd at the eighth pole.
2) GAMENESS FACTOR: In both of the horse’s final 2 preps before Derby, should not have a worse finishing postion than he or she was at the eighth pole. Horse’s that lose ground/position in shorter races leading up to the Derby are not usually ones wanting the 10 furlong distance.
3) RACED IN A GRADED STAKES BY MARCH 31: Late bloomers rarely win the Derby. This category seperates who has been pointed on the Derby Trail for a while from those who started late or ran into issues and are scrambling at the last minute to get in. The Derby isn’t won by dumb luck, it’s won by preperation and a little good fortune as well.
4)AT LEAST 3RD IN A 1 1/8TH MILE PREP RACE: Pretty self explanatory here, if a horse can’t finish at least 3rd going 9 furlongs, what would make you think they’re going to place better with another furlong added.
5) RACED AS A 2 YEAR OLD: Easily the most talked about of all the rules, everyone knows that no unraced 2 year old has won the Derby since Apollo in the late 1800’s. There have been several that have come close however. Bodemeister was probably 100 yards or so away from winning in 2012 before I’ll Have Another overcame him. Curlin finished a troubled trip 3rd in 2007 from the 2 hole in just his 4th career start. Two weeks later would win the Preakness. Big Brown had just 1 race as a 2 year old, and like Curlin, was making just his 4th career start in 2008 Derby, a race he won convincingly.
6) NO ADDING OR REMOVING BLINKERS IN LAST START BEFORE DERBY: The thinking here is, you really don’t want to be figuring things out with what might work with your horse a month or so before the probable biggest race of their career. If you’re adding or taking blinkers off, it means you’re still searching for answers.
7) NOT A GELDING: This one I don’t believe really matters this year because I don’t think there’s a gelding among the prospective Derby field. Funny Cide and Mine That Bird have won the Derby in the last 15 editions. The line of thinking here is that if a horse had the talent all along to be a Derby Contender, no one in their right mind would ever geld them.
8) HAS A GRADED STAKES WIN: If you want to win the main event, you gotta win the preliminary events first, right? While we’ve seen Mine That Bird and Giacomo win the Derby without winning a Graded Stakes beforehand(coincidentally both were 50-1 in the Derby), generally speaking horses that run in the Derby without having won a Stakes are considered filler more so than contender.
9) SUFFICIENT RACING EXPERIENCE: I saved this for last because recent years have shown that this category should be stricken from the Strikes System. The rule states that a horse should have a minimum of 6 races entering the Derby, but in the last 10 years or so over half the winners have fallen under that minimum.
As it relates to Audible, he passes every category mentioned above except for #9. The Derby will be his 6th career start. But as mentioned in the explanation of the category, I don’t even use that one anymore because it has been proved to be unreliable the last 10-12 years. So take away that strike, and Audible has ZERO Strikes in the 8 remaining categories.
I’ve also added 3 other categories to Mr. White’s Strike System of my own. 1) Final 3/8th mile final time. Only 2 times since 2000 has the Derby winner ran his final 3/8th mile time in his final Derby prep in over :38 seconds, and this stat is very important this year I believe because over half of the probable Derby field has horses that were over :38. Audible comes in at 37:46. 2) Final time of 9 furlong prep in 1:50 or under, only 4 horses since 2000 have ran their final 1 1/8th mile prep in over that time and went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Audible’s final Florida Derby time was 1:49:48. 3) Horse won their last start before the Derby. The last 7 Derby winners won their last start, the last 6 won at least their last 2 starts. Audible has won 4 in a row, so obviously he passes this category. Through those 11 categories I used, only 3 horses came out with ZERO STRIKES; Vino Rosso, Mendelsohnn, and Audible.
Todd Pletcher has been one of the most dominant trainers in the U.S. in the last 20 years, winning multiple Eclipse Awards for Top Trainer as well as breaking racords for purse money and graded stakes wins. Has overcame the stigma of not winning Triple Crown races by winning 5 in the last 11 years, including last year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes with Always Dreaming and Tapwrit, respectively. Has not slowed down any on the trail to Derby 144, in fact domniated the U.S. based major prep races by winning 4 of the 6 “100 point” designated races. He didn’t have a runner in the Santa Anita Derby and sent out longshot Marconi in the Bluegrass.
Though he doesn’t have a Kentucky Derby win, there are few other major races that Jockey Javier Castellano has not won. Eclipse Award winning Jockey’s only Triple Crown race victory came in 2006 aboard Bernardini in his Preakness win. Has also won a Breeders Cup Classic aboard Ghostzapper. Had his choice of Derby mounts between Audible and Bolt d’Oro, chose the former.
Winstar Farm already knows what it’s like to taste Kentucky Derby glory, having teamed up with Pletcher in 2010 on Super Saver. Also had Drosselmeyer 5 weeks later for his Belmont Stakes victory, as well as 17 months later for his Breeders Cup Classic upset win. Also was represented by 2016 Belmont Stakes Winner Creator. Besides Audible, has interests in 3 other probable Derby runners; Probable Derby favorite Justify, Louisiana Derby hero Noble Indy, and Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip. Winstar co-owns Audible along with The China Horse Racing Club. This group has become very successful in just a short time together. They are most notable for campaigning 2017 Kentucky Oaks Heroine Abel Tasman. They are co-owners with Winstar on Justify and Quip.
Audible seems to have everything it takes to wear the Roses on May 5th. He obviously has the talent, winning 4 races in a row including the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, which has become one of the key preps on the road to the Derby the last 15 years or so, producing 5 Derby winners since 2006. Was well thought of early on even before he raced, as he was purchased for $500K at a 2 year old in training sale. His running style is versatile enough that he can be close to the pace early or be more off the pace, as the race dictates. Also his tactical speed seems to always put him in a prime position to win in the stretch. Has faced and beaten several very good horses, a few he’ll face yet again the Derby. As far as connections go, doubting any horse has a better trio of Trainer, Jockey and Owners than Audible does in Pletcher, Castellano, and Winstar/Chine Horse Racing Club. Seemingly his only question mark is his pedigree. Will have to prove his doubters wrong who don’t think Into Mischief can sire a Classic distance winner. Remember not many thought Uncle Mo could sire a Derby winner either, but he did in Nyquist two year’s ago. Lucky Pulpit had never sired a horse that had won at 1 1/4 mile before California Chrome won in 2014. Audible will be at the top of all my tickets on May 5th, as long as nothing changes between now and then that would make me feel otherwise. Considering he will be 3rd or 4th wagering choice, I think there is great value here in a horse that will probably go off at 7/1-8/1.
photos by Holly M. Smith (@kyholmarie on Twitter)