Kentucky Derby Sophomore Spotlight: Florida Derby and UAE Derby
by JOHN MUCCIOLO
A pair of huge performances by leading Kentucky Derby contenders highlighted the holiday weekend.
Florida Derby (G1)
Impressive Holy Bull (G2) winner AUDIBLE cemented his status as one of the top sophomores in training right now with a powerful, three-length win for Todd Pletcher. Bay colt tracked from well off the pace early on and drove home with a superb stretch run beneath John Velazquez.
Audible has now reeled off four decisive wins in succession and finished up nine furlongs over the Gulfstream Park main oval in 1:49 2/5. Son of Into Mischief registered a lifetime-best 107 BRIS Speed number in the process.
HOFBURG, coming off a maiden win in his second career start, ran huge in an initial outing with winners. Colt was 7 3/4 lengths clear of third and I love how he finished through the lane.
Lightly raced three-year-old from the Bill Mott barn lacks the experience of most horses on the Derby trail. But Hofburg raced like a seasoned veteran on Saturday and I believe that he has a very high ceiling. I may have found my Derby horse.
MISSISSIPPI gained a brief advantage in the stretch but couldn’t sustain his momentum while third. Mark Casse trainee is talented but he has more than 10 lengths to make up on Audible.
The biggest letdown in the race to me was CATHOLIC BOY. Grade 2 star had a dream set-up behind furious early splits, but he came up mostly empty in the lane and reportedly bled. This is not the type of race l like to see in advance of the Kentucky Derby, and connections have announced he’ll get time off.
PROMISES FULFILLED was used too much early on and stopped inside the final quarter-mile. Fountain of Youth (G2) hero didn’t have a great prep but he remains interesting to me as a talented sophomore with big speed.
Take nothing away from the top duo. While they did benefit from sitting off of wicked fractions, each closed with excellent energy in an honest time. Audible was no secret, obviously, while going off as the favorite.
But Hofburg was, and I think he is legitimate. I stated in a preview that trainer Bill Mott is not known as being super-aggressive when placing his horses, so to even run in the Florida Derby off of a maiden tally told me that he likes Hofburg a lot. As do I.
UAE Derby (G2)
Aidan O’Brien’s MENDELSSOHN answered the dirt question with style in an historic romp. Scat Daddy colt eased to the lead early and never looked back, finishing a sensational, 18 1/2 lengths clear under the wire.
The $3 million yearling purchase was best in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) in the fall and showed his versatility at Meydan. Half-brother to the sublime Beholder, as well as leading sire Into Mischief, completed 1 1/8 miles in a track-record 1:55.18 and punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.
I find the classy Mendelssohn to be a tough read, though. Colt is bred to love the dirt and he didn’t look like more distance would be a problem to him. Mendelssohn is a fine athlete who is push button to ride, and it’s never an accident when a horse wins by this kind of margin.
But the speed bias at Meydan has been so pronounced this season that it is hard for me to gauge horses that score in front-running fashion in Dubai. And the fact that Mendelssohn will do the majority of his Kentucky Derby prep work in Europe doesn’t answer any questions of mine.
Audible photo by Coglianese Photography