China Horse Club International, WinStar Farm, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners' Audible, undefeated in two starts last winter at Gulfstream Park including the Florida Derby (G1), returns to South Florida for the next step in his comeback in Saturday's $100,000 Harlan's Holiday (G3).
The eighth running of the 1 1/16-mile Harlan's Holiday for 3-year-olds and up is among five graded-stakes worth $600,000 in purses on the 11-race program, topped by the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the turf.
Joining them are a trio of $100,000 races for fillies and mares 3 and up – the six-furlong Sugar Swirl (G3) and one-mile Rampart (G3) on dirt and the My Charmer (G3) going one mile on the grass. First race post time is noon.
Audible opened his 3-year-old season with victories in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (G2) and 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby (G1) to cap a four-race win streak over the course of 4 ½ months and establish himself as one of the top contenders heading into the Kentucky Derby (G1), where he ran third behind eventual Triple Crown champion Justify.
The bay Into Mischief colt was ultimately given a break at WinStar and rejoined trainer Todd Pletcher's New York string in September to prepare for his return, which came in the seven-furlong Cherokee Run Stakes Nov. 3 – six months after the Derby – where he came from off the pace to win by two lengths.
“We were looking for the correct spot to bring him back and in the fall of the year. There's limited opportunities against straight 3-year-olds so we felt like maybe giving up a little bit in terms of the distance was the right way to go,” Pletcher said. “I was proud of him for being able to show enough tactical speed to win impressively at a distance that is probably a little bit shorter than is his ideal distance. I thought he did quite well and it seemed to serve its purpose as far as moving us forward toward the Harlan's Holiday.”
Audible has had three works at Pletcher's winter base of Palm Beach Downs for the Harlan's Holiday, which serves as both the colt's return to graded-stakes competition and a prep for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), the richest dirt race in North America, Jan. 26 at Gulfstream.
“He's been excellent since he shipped down to Florida. Everything has gone according to plan so far, and we're looking forward to the next step toward the Pegasus,” Pletcher said. “We're pleased with the way he's training, the way he looks and we hope that he likes what I would consider to be a little bit of a different Gulfstream surface maybe than what he ran on earlier this year, but it seems like he relished it.
“Of course you'd always like to win. It's hopefully a springboard toward the Pegasus and the mile and a sixteenth I think will suit him fine,” he added. “The main thing we're looking for is a good effort and for him to show us that he's progressing, moving forward. Hopefully he performs well and most importantly comes out of it in good shape to move forward toward the Pegasus.”
Pletcher will also send out Angels of Catalina, Inc.'s Argentinian import Village King, nose winner of an off-the-turf edition of the 1 1/8-mile Red Smith Stakes Nov. 17 at Aqueduct, his first victory in North America.
In his two prior starts since leaving his native country, Village King was third by a head Oct. 19 at Belmont and a distant fourth in his Sept. 14 debut, both going 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Pletcher also gave the Fort Lauderdale consideration for Village King, a Group 1 winner on the grass in Argentina.
“We had him this summer. He made his first start for us at Churchill and like a lot of the South American horses he seems to be improving steadily the more time he's had to acclimate here. So we're happy with the way he's doing,” he said. “We're not a thousand percent sure of which surface he's at his absolute best on. He might be one of those that could be equally good on both. Distance is no issue for him.”
Javier Castellano is named to ride Audible from Post 1 at 118 pounds while fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call on Village King from Post 4 at topweight of 121 pounds.
Karl Glassman and Cathi Glassman's Apostle will make his graded-stakes debut in the Harlan's Holiday. Trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., the Medaglia d'Oro colt took a two-race win streak into the one-mile Showing Up Stakes Nov. 3 at Gulfstream Park West, his first try on turf. Unable to get into a rhythm and bottled up in traffic, he ran fifth though beaten less than three lengths.
“He came out of the last race great. It was an opportunity to try him on the turf. It was a big, bulky field and I felt if we ran that race five different times he would have won it one time, maybe,” Plesa said. “It was kind of a troubled trip for him. He was kind of in tight and he's a big free-running horse. He got some experience on the turf. I don't think he's as good on the turf as he is on the dirt but he's adequate.
“It's always been our goal to run in this race, so his previous race was about the only spot we had to run in-between,” he added. “It was a fact-finding mission and he ran well enough. I know this is going to be awful tough with Todd's horse in there, but we've got to find out where we're at with him.”
Though Apostle has raced only once beyond the mile of his past three starts, finishing third in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight Feb. 10 at Gulfstream, Plesa has no qualms about stretching him out even further.
“I think the longer the better with him. If it was a mile and an eighth, I'd like it even better. The distance isn't an issue at all,” he said. “Short fields produce sometimes odd results and pace makes the race. In an ideal situation we'd like to see an honest pace. Sometimes that happens in short fields, other times it doesn't.
“It's up to the jockey to kind of have a handle on how fast they're going. Our horse is not a speed horse and he's not a horse that comes from out of the clouds. He's somewhere in-between. [Edgard] Zayas knows him, Zayas is an outstanding rider here, so he'll figure it out. The horse has been training great.”
Zayas, aboard for all five of Apostle's starts, will be in the irons again from Post 5 at low weight of 114 pounds.
Richard Otto Stables' Illinois homebred Sir Anthony enters the Harlan's Holiday having won three straight races dating back to the one-mile Bruce D. Memorial Stakes over Arlington Park's synthetic surface Aug. 11. The last two have come on the dirt at Hawthorne Park, the most recent in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Nov. 1.
Completing the compact field are the Loooch Racing Stables pair of stakes-placed Minute Madness, winner of an optional claiming allowance Nov. 16 at Gulfstream Park West last time out, and Sightforsoreeyes, fourth in the Vosburgh (G1) and most recently eighth in the Clark Handicap (G1).
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