The TDN‘s Christie DeBernardis is out at Gulfstream this week providing on-site coverage of the GI Florida Derby and she caught up with trainers Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse and Bill Mott Friday morning. Pletcher will saddle the Florida Derby favorite in impressive GII Holy Bull S. winner Audible (Into Mischief) and sends out last term’s Florida Derby/GI Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming (Bodemeister) in the GII Gulfstream Park Mile, which is his first start since the Aug. 26 GI Travers S. Casse’s Florida Derby contender is $ 700,000 FTFMAR buy Mississippi (Pioneerof the Nile), who kicked off this term with a close second to GII Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy (Take Charge Indy) in a Jan. 11 optional claimer and missed by a neck to the reopposing Storm Runner (Get Stormy) last time in Hallandale Feb. 4. Mott trainee Hofburg (Tapit), a half-brother to MGISW Emollient (Empire Maker), also makes a big jump up in class Saturday. Fourth on debut sprinting at Saratoga in September, the Juddmonte homebred enters off a half-length graduation in his first try around two turns at Gulfstream Mar. 3.
How do you feel about Audible coming into the race?
“I feel good. He had a nice gallop this morning at Palm Beach Downs before shipping to Gulfstream. He was in good spirits, full of energy and settled in well at Gulfstream.
What are your thoughts on his post (eight of nine)?
“I would prefer to be a little more inside, but we have no control over post position, so we will make the best of it. Hopefully he breaks alertly and John Velazquez is able to get him into a position where he doesn’t lose too much ground in the first turn.”
How do you think he will handle the distance?
“The way he finished at a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth shouldn’t be a problem. He was very explosive the last sixteenth of a mile in the Holy Bull and that would give you optimism that he could handle a mile and an eighth.”
How is Always Dreaming doing ahead of this return to the races?
“He has been training very well and enthusiastically. He looks fantastic and has filled out nicely. He looks like a 4-year-old that has made that transition the way you would want one to. It is always concerning when you are bringing a horse back off a layoff and running against some accomplished horses that have more recent form, but seeing how well he ran last year when he won the Florida Derby, we know he likes the track. We are excited to get his season under way.
Do you think he will appreciate this distance coming off a seven-month layoff?
“I think it is a good distance to bring him back. I think it will also give us some information that will be useful in what races we point to after tomorrow.”
Has there been any talk about where he would go next?
“No, we really just targeted this and focused on this. We will see how he does in here and we will assess what is next afterwards.”
This is a big step up in class for Mississippi. What gave you the confidence to go from an optional claimer to a Grade I?
“I think his races so far have been good. If you look two back, obviously he got beat by the Louisiana Derby winner. I think he deserves a shot. I thought I ran him back a little too quick last time, so I gave him some extra time. He’s been doing extremely well. I am not sure where he stacks up with the top horses, but it is time to find out.”
What made you decide to add blinkers this time?
“[Jockey] Julien [Leparoux] felt that in his last two races he would lose focus during the race. We have trained him now with blinkers and it seems to get him to focus a little more. We need a little help, a little boost and we hope that gives it to us.”
How do you feel about having the outside post?
“I don’t like it. As I said, better to be nine of nine then 10 of nine. We are in. It is the hand that was dealt, so we will use it. There seems to be a fair amount of speed. Hopefully, we can get over somewhere mid-pack and save some ground. I do believe he needs to have a good trip to have a chance.”
Do you think he will like this distance?
“I don’t think he will mind it. He is bred to go on. I don’t think it is going to hurt him. If you watch his races, he is usually running on. You just never know. I think it will help him in that it will hurt others.”
You’re known for your patience with horses and it is not often we see you step a horse up to a Grade I off a maiden win. What made you decide to do that with Hofburg?
“It was maybe a lack of other opportunities and the fact we thought he had run quite well last time. It is really sort of a way to test our medal I guess. He is doing well and came out of the race good. Whatever it may be [in Saturday’s race], we will make our adjustments from here.”
Has he been a horse you have been high on for a while now?
“Since he came into the barn, yes. We had him all last summer and we liked him quite a bit all along.”
How do you think he will handle nine furlongs?
“I don’t think distance will be an issue. I think that’s what he is looking for. That is what I felt about him all along.”
What will be your instructions to jockey Jose Ortiz Saturday?
“I will point out who I think the speed horses are and I will leave the rest up to him.”