Forte lived up to his name Saturday, and now the 2-year-old champion has risen to become the favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
The Todd Pletcher-trained colt scored an impressive four-and-a-half length victory in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park near Miami. The 1-2 betting favorite stayed behind the leaders for most of the 1-1/16th mile race before jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. swept Forte to the outside as they exited the final turn.
They easily broke away from a three-horse pack of Cyclone Mischief, Rocket Can, and Mage down the stretch to score an impressive four-and-a-half length victory in 1:43.12. It was perhaps made more impressive by the fact that Forte was coming off a four-month break after winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November.
Pletcher, though, said he wasn’t the least bit shocked by the colt that has now won four straight races, all of which have been graded stakes.
We kind of carefully laid it out and put him in a program that would put him in the condition to be ready to run and still having room for improvement and room to continue to develop,” said Pletcher, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, about the layoff. “I think we were able to accomplish that.”
With Saturday’s win, Forte earned 50 points toward qualifying for the May 6 Kentucky Derby. He now has 90, a total that certainly should be enough to put him in the race. However, the colt sired by Violence is expected to race one more time – the April 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream – before making the trek to the Bluegrass State.
Forte Now Clear Kentucky Derby Favorite
Oddsmakers in Vegas took note of Forte’s performance. Last week, Forte was the +750 favorite on Circa’s Kentucky Derby futures board and had dropped to +500 before Circa closed betting on Friday. By Sunday, once wagering resumed, he was moved down to +400, or 4-1.
Those are very low odds, especially with two months left before the Run for the Roses.
While I’m impressed with Forte’s abilities, his racing style concerns me some for the Derby. Forte likes to stay about two-to-four lengths behind the leader before making his move at the stretch. It works in smaller fields, as Forte and many other horses show, but the Kentucky Derby can feature up to 20 horses. That increases Forte’s chances of potentially getting trapped midway through the race.
Also, Ortiz Jr., an Eclipse Award-winning jockey in four of the last five years, has not finished in the money once in his six Derby mounts.
Only one other horse is being offered at odds less than 10-1 on the Circa board. That’s Arabian Knight (+925), who won the Southwest Stakes on January 28 at Oaklawn Park, but has yet to score any qualifying points because he was previously trained by Bob Baffert, who is currently suspended from the Louisville track.
The colt was moved to Tim Yakteen’s stables before Churchill Down’s February 28 deadline in order to become eligible for the Derby. Arabian Knight will likely race next in either the April 1 Arkansas Derby or the April 8 Santa Anita Derby, both of which award 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.
Raising Cain, Practical Move Also Win Derby Preps
Two other horses also earned 50 qualifying points in Derby prep races on Saturday.
Raise Cain, a 23-1 shot, scored an upset on an off track in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in New York.
With Jose Lezcano aboard, the Ben Colebrook-trained colt found himself in 11th place a quarter of the way through the mile race, but he and Lezcano patiently made their way through the field and found daylight heading into the stretch. He ended up winning by seven-and-a-half lengths.
Colebrook said he felt the 15-horse field worked in his horse’s favor.
“I thought it was a wide-open race,” he said. “It was definitely tough, but I thought a big field would help him to be honest. He’s so laid back and he’ll do whatever a rider asks him. He’ll fit through gaps and find holes. I kind of thought that would be a good thing, especially with all the pace. I would have rather had that than some monster in a short field.”
Meanwhile, across the country, Yakteen scored a victory with Practical Move winning the San Felipe Stakes.
In his first race since winning the Los Alamitos Futurity in December, Practical Move rallied from being in the middle of the pack on the backstretch to earn his second straight graded stakes win. Jockey Ramon Vazquez kept the colt on the inside, and they were able to make their move coming out of the final turn to win by two-and-a-half lengths.
Unlike most of Yakteen’s Derby contenders this one did not come as a transfer from Baffert’s stable.
“He is a phenomenally gifted horse,” Yakteen said. “I am amazed at how strong he is and how he has matured from a two-year-old to a three-year-old. Everything has fallen into place.”
The trainer added after the race he expects Practical Move to have another start before heading to Louisville.
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