LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Todd Quad had its final major Kentucky Derby tune-ups Friday at Churchill Downs, and even the horse known as the least energetic in the morning impressed trainer Todd Pletcher as he seeks a third victory in America's greatest race.
Audible, the Florida Derby winner who comes into the Kentucky Derby off four straight wins, apparently is the reverse of a "morning glory," the racetrack moniker for a horse who trains brilliantly but doesn't perform accordingly in the afternoon in a race. But Audible's works since his late-running, three-length triumph over Hofburg at Gulfstream Park have picked up considerably.
"I think he's a smart horse, the way he does in the morning," jockey Javier Castellano said of Audible, his Derby mount. "He's a laid-back horse. I wouldn't call him lazy, just a smart horse. He'll do what you ask him. For him today was a good work. He's doing phenomenal. I was so happy the way he worked."
Working in company with Grade 3 Bay Shore winner National Flag, Audible went a half-mile in 49 2/5 seconds under Castellano. It did the trick, if not as flashy as stablemates Vino Rosso (the Wood Memorial winner who powered 47 1/5 seconds under rider John Velazquez, fastest of 75 workouts at the distance Friday while working with the 4-year-old stakes winner Outplay) or Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon (47 2/5 with ace exercise rider Nick Bush in the saddle, in company with graded-stakes winner Maraud). In addition, Noble Indy, who comes into the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff since winning the Louisiana Derby, went five-eighths of a mile in 1:01 3/5 under Florent Geroux, who picks up the Derby mount, in company with maiden winner Regal Quality.
"I thought Audible's work was very good," said Pletcher, whose 2018 Derby contingent is a combined 14 for 18. "Javier was extremely pleased with the way he handled the surface. Vino Rosso, Johnny was also very happy. All three of them were similar works. Vino Rosso and Magnum Moon were a little quicker than Audible, but I thought Audible really put in a big gallop out for him. He sort of got that 1:13-1:14 three-quarters (of a mile) gallop out, 1:28-1:29 seven-eighths gallop out we were looking for. So I'm very pleased with those.
"I thought Noble Indy worked super. Florent seemed to get along with him really well. He executed the breeze nicely, stayed focused once he got on his own and galloped out with good energy. So knock on wood, it was all good. This was an important day. Fortunately we got perfect conditions, terrific morning and all the horses did what we were hoping they'd do. You come in here sometimes and you worry about how they're going to get over the surface, how they're going to handle it. I thought all four really got ahold of the track, got over it very well.
"It's a remarkably consistent group. They all seem to show up and run well all the time. With the exception of Vino Rosso's Tampa Bay Derby (a fourth), I haven't been disappointed in them one time. They show up, run hard, are adaptable to different pace scenarios."
Pletcher said that Audible seemed to tout himself in the workout.
"What I particularly liked were Javier's comments," he said. "This track can be a little funny and a lot of times you'll see horses bobble, lose their momentum a bit when the track cups away from them. It seemed to me all four of our horses never did that this morning."
On consecutive Saturdays, Velazquez won the Louisiana Derby on Noble Indy, the Florida Derby on Audible and then New York's Wood Memorial on Vino Rosso, opting to stick with Vino Rosso. Luis Saez is the regular rider of Magnum Moon, guiding that colt to a 4-for-4 victory that includes Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths and the Arkansas Derby by four.
Pletcher said it made sense to enlist Geroux on Noble Indy. He is the rider of the Rodolphe Brisset-trained Quip, the Tampa Bay Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up who has the same owners as Noble Indy but who will train up to the Preakness Stakes.
Pletcher is a virtual certainty to exit this Derby having started the most horses in history, coming into the race tied with his former boss D. Wayne Lukas at 48. Lukas has a lone runner in Bravazo, his first Derby entrant since 2015.
In 2007, Pletcher joined Lukas and Nick Zito as the only trainers to start five horses in the Kentucky Derby. Six years later he became the only trainer ever to have a quintet twice -- nicknamed the Todd Squad -- though those two years his only horse to hit the board was third-place Revolutionary in 2013.
Pletcher became only the second trainer in Derby history to start four horses in a year, following James Rowe Sr. in 1923, and is the only one to do it multiple times. If his contingent stays in tact, this will be the fourth Pletcher four-pack. His 2010 quartet showed the advantage of depth, as Pletcher won his first Kentucky Derby with Super Saver after expected favorite Eskendereya was declared out with a leg injury the week before the race.
If he has had more numbers, even Pletcher has never brought in this depth of quality, with all four horses coming in off victories in major prep races that were worth the maximum 100 qualifying points. No trainer before has won the Wood Memorial, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby and Louisiana Derby in the same year. Research by Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman shows the only other trainer to win four of the last six major preps — including the Santa Anita Derby and Keeneland's Blue Grass — in the same year was the late Bobby Frankel, who won two apiece in 2003 with Empire Maker (Florida Derby and Wood) and Peace Rules (Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass). That sequence would be even more unlikely today with those races now spaced so close together.
"We've been here before in what appeared to be strong positions, but we've never been here with four horses that won their final preps like these horses have," he said. "So it makes you feel good about it, makes you feel like you've got four horses that are doing great, training well and have a chance. But like I said, we appreciate how difficult this race is to win. But we're thankful for the hand we have."
Why Velazquez, Castellano picked their Derby mounts
Velazquez had this to say about choosing Vino Rosso over Audible and Noble Indy: "I just believe this horse (Vino Rosso) can go the distance, the distance is what I'm looking for. The way he works in the morning, the way he gallops out, he seems to be a little better than the other ones galloping out. They're all good horses. It was a really, really hard choice, not an easy decision to make going into the Derby. But I think his style of running, the way he gallops out, I think he can keep going. I think the distance will help us more than anything."
What apparently wasn't a factor was that St. Elias Stable's Vincent Viola, co-owner of Pletcher and Velazquez's 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming, is co-owner of Vino Rosso. Viola is partners with major Pletcher client Mike Repole in the Wood winner.
"You don't think that's going to happen back-to-back with the ownership," Velazquez said of leading Derby prospects. "It just happened to set up this way. I've been very lucky with them, and they've been very good to me. I got lucky that they have another horse coming to the Derby that I liked, though we have a lot of good horses in the barn, obviously."
Meanwhile, Castellano opted to ride the New York-bred Audible over California-based Bolt d'Oro, one of last year's leading 2-year-olds. The jockey won won an Aqueduct allowance race and the Grade 2 Holy Bull by 5 1/2 lengths on Audible before missing the Florida Derby while in Dubai. In two races with Castellano this year, Bolt d'Oro was moved up to the victory in Santa Anita's San Felipe for being impeded by first-place finisher McKinzie and then second in the Santa Anita Derby won easily by expected Kentucky Derby favorite Justify.
"It was a tough decision, of course," Castellano said. "At the same time, you don't want to burn a lot of bridges. I've been riding for many years and have never won the Kentucky Derby. I'm trying to find the best opportunity to ride the right horse to win the race. There's a lot of luck involved. I've ridden I believe in the Derby 12 times and my closest finish is fourth. I went to the West Coast thinking I had the opportunity to ride Bolt d'Oro, and nothing wrong with the horse. He's a very nice horse. At the same time, you have to look for loyalty in this game. I've been with Todd for many years, and he's supported my career for many years. I think it was the right thing to do, and hopefully it will work out."