At the start of the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2), Audible had to straighten himself out after taking contact from the longest shot on the board. On the final turn, he had a grade 1 winner breathing down his neck, threatening to give a lesson in what really comes with a step up in class.
But the good ones know how to shake off such challenges, and in the 1 1/16-mile test at Gulfstream Park Feb. 3, the latest wunderkind from the barn of Todd Pletcher proved his mettle. In his first try against graded company against some of the more well-regarded members of his class, it was Audible who looked most professional of all in a statement-making outing on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
It wouldn't be prep season without a Pletcher-trained youngster throwing down an eye-catching run at Gulfstream, and Audible fulfilled the tradition in emphatic fashion Saturday for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and SF Racing. After racing three-wide down the backstretch, the son of Into Mischief turned back a challenge from Free Drop Billy on the far turn, then thoroughly humbled all eight of his foes with a 5 1/2-length victory.
The Holy Bull offered qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 scale towards a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and succeeded in luring a field considered among the saltiest of the preps thus far. In addition to Free Drop Billy, graded winner Enticed came in with 9-5 favoritism off his victory over fellow entrant Tiz Mischief in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs in November. Instead, it was Audible who ran off with the lion's share, which vaulted him to 12th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Bred in New York by Oak Bluff Stables out of the winning Gilded Time mare Blue Devil Bel, Audible was purchased by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club for $500,000 from Crupi's New Castle Farm at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Florida March 2-year-olds in training sale. Though he didn't try stakes company in his three starts as a juvenile, he did show signs of being one to monitor once the march towards the first Saturday in May started to heat up. After breaking his maiden second-time out in a one-mile test at Aqueduct Racetrack Nov. 15, the bay colt stalked-and-pounced his way to a sizzling 9 3/4-length allowance win over the same track and distance Dec. 6.
"We actually brought him down (to Florida) a little bit later because we were entered in the New York-bred stake, and then all the bad weather hit in New York and it got delayed and carried over," Pletcher said. "Maybe it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The original plan was to run him in the New York-bred stake and then bring him down, but when all the bad weather hit we came up with a different strategy and it seemed to work out well today.
"He shipped in great and trained really well when he got here, so it kind of made it an easy decision that this was an easy race to target."
Audible showed in his two prior wins he was handy enough to rate wherever needed. That tractability was on display in the Holy Bull, when the eventual winner recovered from a bump with 108-1 longshot Bandito at the start and settled between horses three-wide in second as Master Manipulator led the field through an opening quarter-mile in :23.59.
Jockey Javier Castellano had Audible tracking third as they reached the half-mile in :47.14, and confidently began asking for a sustained run approaching the final turn. With the weakening pacesetter dropping out of it just past the three-eighths pole, Audible then had to deal with Free Drop Billy rolling on his outside in that one's first start since running ninth in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
The battle ended in quick order, with Audible putting the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (G1) winner away at the head of the lane and drawing off handily to hit the wire in 1:41.92 over a fast track.
"I love the way he did it today, compared to our last race, because his last race he was still developing and a bit laid back," Castellano said of his mount. "I really had to ride him last time out. ... Today he was sharp and had tactical speed in the race and we could move and he'd give me everything I asked of him. I love these kinds of horses ... where you can move quick and can put them in a good position.
"It's only a mile and sixteenth today, but the way he galloped out was amazing. I look forward to the next race."
Free Drop Billy was a clear second-best under Luis Saez, finishing 7 3/4-lengths in front of Dale Romans-trained stablemate Tiz Mischief in third. Enticed had no response after a ground-saving trip under Joel Rosario and ended up fourth, well clear of Pony Up in fifth.
"He ran hard. He tried hard. The winner was tough," Saez said. "Maybe after the layoff he got a little tired, but he tried. I think he'll be ready for his next start."
Added Rosario of Enticed, "I got a good trip. He just didn't give me a run."
Audible improved his record to three wins from four starts with $287,720 in earnings.
"I think the question now is do you run him two more times or one more time and we'll let him tell us kind of how he bounces out of this," Pletcher said. "He's a very kind horse to train, very easy on himself in the morning. I love the way he came over here and handled everything. He was perfect in the paddock, post parade, gate—all those little intangibles that really help with horses that are pointing for big days."