Should Audible win this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), it would mark the third straight year an XpressBet Florida Derby (G1) winner has gone on to also win the Louisville classic. Last year, the Gulfstream Park race moved to the top of the list of Derby preps.
The Kentucky Derby victories by Florida Derby winners Nyquist in 2016 and Always Dreaming last year moved the Gulfstream race past Keeneland's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on the list of most successful Derby prep races. Twenty-four Florida Derby runners have gone on to win the Churchill Downs classic while 23 Blue Grass runners have won the Kentucky Derby.
Besides the success the past two years, Orb in 2013 gives the Florida Derby three winners in the past five years. Granted, Nyquist—his connections attracted by a lucrative bonus—shipped in to win the Florida Derby, but there are a number of factors in the race's favor in recent years, beyond the number of top horses who always have wintered in Florida to take advantage of the reliable training schedules afforded by the nice weather.
A revamped schedule in 2005 that moved the race from mid-March to five weeks before the Kentucky Derby only improved the attractiveness of the race as horsemen have favored more time between their final Derby prep and the first classic. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Audible this year after taking last year's Derby with Always Dreaming, said the timing of the race is perfect, relative to the Kentucky Derby.
"I love where it's positioned frankly. I think it's ideal timing," Pletcher said. "If you're based in Florida, it gives you the opportunity to not ship for that final round. I think that can be an advantage as well."
Beyond that, the timing of the meet allows Gulfstream to offer race options leading up to the Florida Derby—most prominently the Holy Bull Stakes (G2), which this year was Feb. 3 and also won by Audible; and the XpressBet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), won March 3 by Kentucky Derby hopeful Promises Fulfilled.
Horses can train at Gulfstream or a number of nearby training centers like Palm Meadows, Palm Beach Downs, and Payson Park. Pletcher is based at Palm Beach Downs, where all four of his 2018 Derby hopefuls trained. Besides Audible, they include Magnum Moon, who won the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park; Noble Indy, who won the TwinSpires Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots; and Vino Rosso, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes presented by NYRA Bets (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"It just seems to work very well for us. It's a very quiet facility, and it's been a very safe surface for us. It just seems the horses do well there," Pletcher said of Palm Beach Downs. "They not only do well while training there, it also seems they can leave there run well at Gulfstream or go to Aqueduct, or go to Fair Grounds or go to Oaklawn, or go to Tampa and generally run well regardless of where we ship them. It seems to prepare them for just about any surface."
Prep Races to Produce Most Kentucky Derby Winners
Derby wins Race
24 Florida Derby
23 Blue Grass Stakes
23 Champagne Stakes
20 Hopeful Stakes
20 Wood Memorial Stakes
Recent Derby Winners and Final Prep race
Year Kentucky Derby winner Final Prep (finish)
2017 Always Dreaming Florida Derby (1)
2016 Nyquist Florida Derby (1)
2015 American Pharoah Arkansas Derby (1)
2014 California Chrome Santa Anita Derby (1)
2013 Orb Florida Derby (1)
2012 I'll Have Another Santa Anita Derby (1)
2011 Animal Kingdom Spiral Stakes (1)
2010 Super Saver Arkansas Derby (2)
2009 Mine That Bird Sunland Derby (4)
2008 Big Brown Florida Derby (1)