Audible will try to become the third straight Florida Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby

Audible will try to become the third straight Florida Derby winner to win the Kentucky Derby

Anne M. Eberhardt

Florida Derby Moves to Top of Prep Races

Always Dreaming's Kentucky Derby win moved Florida Derby past Blue Grass Stakes.

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)