Impressed as he was with Audible's performance March 31 in the $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1), trainer Todd Pletcher was equally thrilled by how the colt bounced out of a powerful three-length victory that stamped him as a leading Triple Crown contender.
Pletcher checked in on his latest 3-year-old star early April 1 and found him doing as well as he looked after making the Florida Derby his fourth consecutive victory and second straight in a graded stakes, following the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
"Excellent. He seemed to come out of it very well. We're always anxious to see how they come out of it, but we could tell back at the barn after the race, it seemed like his energy level was very good," Pletcher said. "He cooled out quickly and was pretty enthusiastic as he was walking around the barn. We felt pretty confident that he took the race well. You love to see them recover quickly, and he certainly did that, so that's an encouraging sign.
"I think the most important thing that he showed yesterday was that the stretch out to a mile and an eighth was no issue at all. So that gives us confidence that going a mile and a quarter is also in his range."
Pletcher, Gulfstream's 15-time meet-leading trainer, said Audible will remain at Palm Beach Downs in Delay Beach, Fla. for the time being until plans for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) are finalized. The Into Mischief colt races for WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners.
Among Pletcher's other Triple Crown contenders are Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, who broke his maiden Dec. 3 and won an optional claiming allowance Jan. 11 at Gulfstream; and Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Magnum Moon, whose maiden triumph came Jan. 13 at Gulfstream in his career debut.
"I'd like to have at least one breeze over the Churchill Downs track, possibly two. We'll just kind of play it by ear," the trainer said. "Last year, I was planning on going three weeks out, and, looking at the forecast, it looked like they had a week full of rain, so we postponed it a week and that worked out well for Always Dreaming. We'll just see how things are going."
Audible gave Pletcher his fifth Florida Derby win and fourth in five years, following Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015) and Always Dreaming (2017). Constitution missed the Triple Crown races with an injury but came back to win the 2015 Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream, while Materiality ran sixth in the Derby and eighth in the Belmont Stakes presented by DraftKings (G1) before being retired.
Last year, Always Dreaming added to a Florida Derby legacy that has seen 44 starters (in 66 runnings) win a remarkable 59 Triple Crown events. Always Dreaming was the 15th horse to complete the Florida-Kentucky Derby double and the third in five years, following Nyquist (2016) and Orb (2013).
"The Florida Derby has been such a successful route to take to the Kentucky Derby recently, and I think part of that is the strength of the 3-year-old program at Gulfstream. I think it's ideally placed on the calendar being five weeks out. It seems to have a lot of momentum because of that," Pletcher said.
"I think any time that you can win a grade 1, it's so important to a horse's career, especially a stallion prospect," he added. "Ultimately, I think that's our most important job as a trainer and a stable is develop stallions for our owners. Fortunately, we've been able to do that, so it's of utmost importance."
Pletcher also found success on the Florida Derby undercard with Hi Happy, a multiple group 1 winner in his native Argentina who won for the first time in North America in the $250,000 Pan American Stakes (G2T); Outplay, winner of the 2017 Curlin Stakes making his first start since last fall in a second-level optional claiming allowance; and 3-year-old filly Legend Emma in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on the grass.
"Hi Happy came out in really good shape as well," Pletcher said. "We were excited about running him a mile and a half. We felt like that's what he was wanting to do, and he'd been training very well coming into it. We were optimistic and glad that he delivered the kind of performance that we thought he was going to. I think we'll probably go to New York (May 12) for the Man o' War (Stakes, G1T)," Pletcher said. "I thought Outplay ran super. He showed good tactical speed, and I think it opened up some good possibilities for him. Now he's won at three different distances ... so I think that gives us a ton of options with him."
For the second straight year, Pletcher plans to maintain a string of horses at Palm Beach Downs for Gulfstream's spring-summer meet, which opens April 5 and continues through Sept. 30. He won the 2017 spring title with 28 wins.
"We're going to keep quite a few here until probably after the (Kentucky) Derby, when we get (the barns at) Saratoga Race Course open, but we'll just kind of play it as it comes along in terms of how many we keep here," he said. "I'm glad to keep a stable open here year-round and see how it goes."