Damned that layout at Gulfstream Park.
You’re traveling from a wide draw, a draw not only of space and time but of mind. A journey into a frustrating turn whose boundaries are that of pace. That’s the signpost up ahead. Your next stop: The Finite Zone.
With apologies to Rod Serling (and anyone doing an eye roll) this is the curse that befalls Audible on Saturday.
One of the top 10 horses in Kentucky Derby futures betting here in Nevada, Audible drew gate 8 and is the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the $1 million Grade 1 Florida Derby at 6:30 p.m. EDT Saturday. The winner will automatically get a spot in the gate May 5 at Churchill Downs; the runner-up probably will, too.
In truth, statistics during the current Gulfstream meet suggest this is not the end of the world for Audible. Horses drawing the 8 hole have won 10 of 70 times – or 14 percent. That’s pretty good.
“With only nine horses in the race it’s fine,” said Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, Audible’s owner. “Obviously there was some discussion about the 11 or 12 going a mile-and-an-eighth here at Gulfstream Park, but he doesn’t have to worry about that. So I think everything is good.”
However, there are three pure speed horses to the inside of Audible and one other that would not be uncomfortable with the early lead. So Hall of Fame jockey John Velázquez may have his hands full getting Audible where he probably wants him – stalking going into the first turn. Thanks to the way Gulfstream Park is set up for nine furlongs, Velázquez will have only 150 yards to work with – or about eight seconds.
Until this week Audible had led a charmed life with pill draws in his first four starts, never stuck outside gate 4. That was exactly where he was when he got a dream trip from Javier Castellano to win his last race – the 8½-furlong Holy Bull – by 5½ lengths at Gulfstream on Feb. 8. With Castellano riding this weekend in Dubai, it falls to Velázquez to take Audible through his first wide draw and his first stretch to nine furlongs.
Todd Pletcher, who has trained four Florida Derby winners including Always Dreaming last year, said if Audible does for him what he did when we saw him eight weeks ago, then he should be fine.
“The way he finished at a mile-and-a-sixteenth you wouldn’t think a mile-and-an-eighth would be an issue,” Pletcher said. “What was most impressive in the Holy Bull is how he kicked on after prompting solid fractions. He was able to find another gear.”
But if Audible is literally not in position to win Saturday, there are two other Kentucky Derby prep winners in the field that could. Promises Fulfilled (3-1) led the whole way four weeks ago in the Fountain of Youth and will try to do that again from gate 4 – but not as a long shot this time. Remsen winner Catholic Boy (7-2) in gate 6 comes back seven weeks after a narrow loss as the favorite in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa. And then from the rail there is Strike Power (4-1), a winner in the Swale sprint before he chased Promises Fulfilled to finish second in the Fountain of Youth.
Knowing that Gulfstream can be a speed-favoring track, trainer Dale Romans said that his colt Promises Fulfilled might be the perfect fit for the Florida Derby. “He’s just fast, and he has great stamina to keep going. He’s going to go to the lead. We’re not changing anything now. I wouldn’t want to be someone trying to hook him.”
Speed horses have won twice in the last three runnings of the Florida Derby, but Pletcher said that a stalker like Audible has history on his side. “What he has that over the years has proven successful is enough tactical speed to put him in position.”
Asked about a successful encore after the Holy Bull, Pletcher said that Audible “still has to go out and do it. But if he can duplicate that performance it shouldn’t be a problem.”
West Coast is heavy favorite in Dubai
After finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and second in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, last year’s U.S. 3-year-old champion West Coast has gone halfway around the world to try and go one better.
Drawn into gate 9 in the 10-horse field, West Coast (11-10) is the strong betting favorite in Europe to win the $10 million Dubai World Cup over 1¼ miles of dirt at Meydan on Saturday at 12:50 p.m. EDT.
With course horse North America (8-1) expected to set the pace, West Coast’s trainer Bob Baffert said the start with Castellano will be crucial.
“The break is so important as we saw last year,” said Baffert, who won with Arrogate and Mike Smith despite a stumble out of – you guessed it – gate 9. “I don’t want to see that and go through that again. But the horse is more important than the post.”
A two-time graded-stakes winner at Meydan, North America is a 6-year-old gelding by Dubawi that is notably owned by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen president who has been accused of rounding up and torturing gay and lesbian residents in his Russian republic.
Two 2017 Breeders’ Cup winners are in the race. Turf winner Talismanic (8-1) makes his first start on real dirt after coming off the grass to win an allowance race on the all-weather course early this month at Chantilly. Distaff champion Forever Unbridled (9-1) has Smith aboard for her first try against the boys for Dallas Stewart, who will train in his first Dubai World Cup.
Third in the Pegasus, Gunnevera (9-1) may be comprised by a bruised hoof that trainer Antonio Sano spotted after a training gallop Wednesday. Sano was cautiously optimistic that the two-time graded-stakes winner would be able to start Saturday night.
A full preview of Dubai World Cup night and all eight thoroughbred races may be heard on the VSiN.com racing podcast at VSiN.com/podcasts.
Gold Town tries for Kentucky via UAE
At 45-1 in Kentucky Derby betting at the Wynn Las Vegas, Gold Town has more than the usual amount of backing for an overseas horse trying to get to Churchill Downs. He will have that and more this weekend in Dubai.
A 10½-length winner last month in the UAE Guineas, the Godolphin-owned Gold Town (3-2) is favored to reach the Kentucky Derby by winning the UAE Derby on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Trained by Charlie Appleby of England and ridden by William Buick, Gold Town has won his last three races by an average of more than six lengths.
The Coolmore colt Mendelssohn (5-2), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, will be the second betting choice and could even get into the Kentucky Derby without hitting the board Saturday. He holds the lead in European qualifying for Churchill, and even though those points would not count on the separate path that includes the UAE Derby, he could get in if the winner of Friday’s Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, England, were to turn down the invitation.
Unusually, there is even one U.S. horse in the UAE Derby field. With two wins in stakes this year at Delta Downs and Sunland Park, Reride (12-1) was shipped over by trainer Steve Asmussen, who saddled Curlin to a win in 2008 and Gun Runner to a runner-up finish in 2017 in the Dubai World Cup.
Although it has long been a win-and-you’re-in race for Kentucky, no UAE Derby horse has ever finished better than fifth running for the roses.
Racing notes and opinions
Always Dreaming makes his return to the track when he races in the $300,000 Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile on Saturday at 3:13 p.m. EDT. But will he be the same horse that won the Kentucky Derby last year? Skeptics like me wonder. He lost his last three races by an average of more than 12 lengths before he was shut down with ulcers. Pletcher is putting Always Dreaming in this race for his 4-year-old debut – and his first race in seven months. On the plus side Always Dreaming is 2-for-2 at Gulfstream, including last year’s win in the Florida Derby.
After finishing fourth in the Risen Star last month in New Orleans, Instilled Regard is headed back to California to race in next weekend’s Santa Anita Derby. With 19 qualifying points, a first-, a second- or maybe even a third-place finish would put him in the Kentucky Derby. But Instilled Regard will find a loaded field with Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie – the one-two finishers in a controversial San Felipe Stakes – already ticketed for the race.
Go figure this year’s path to the Kentucky Derby. Consider this quirk. Mendelssohn (1st in European qualifying points), My Boy Jack (13th in U.S. points), Flameaway (14th), Snapper Sinclair (17th) and Catholic Boy (25th) all came through the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. That’s right. Turf. Mendelssohn won it, Catholic Boy finished fourth, My Joy Jack seventh, Flameaway eighth and Snapper Sinclair 12th.
Three 2-year-olds went for at least $1 million at the Fasig-Tipton sale Wednesday at Gulfstream Park. Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables paid $1.2 million for a Medaglia d’Oro filly, Larry Best’s OXO Equine spent $1.2 million on an Into Mischief colt, and a group led by Coolmore dropped a cool $1 million on a colt by the late Scat Daddy. The sale’s average sale price was $389,746 with the median $295,000, both the second-highest in the long history of the 2-year-old sale.
This racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s edition includes previews of the Florida Derby and Dubai World Cup Night. The guests are Jonathan Thomas, who trains Catholic Boy in the Florida Derby, and Meydan race caller Craig Evans, who previews every thoroughbred race being run Saturday at Meydan. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.