Kentucky Derby: 2022 End of Year Stock Take
With all major juvenile racing now complete in 2022, it’s time to take stock of the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) picture – though it may seem as murky as it’s ever been.
The juvenile ranks do have a clear leader in the form of Forte, who clinched divisional honors by beating the previously-undefeated Cave Rock in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). He’d already secured his spot at the head of the eastern juvenile ranks with victories in the Hopeful (G1) and the Breeders’ Futurity (G1).
However, it would be fair to say Forte hasn’t fully captured the imagination as the Derby frontrunner. Though he was favorite when Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed, his price of 10-1 was as long as any individual favorite has been for seven years, a surprise for a triple Grade 1 winner even though there are 38 individual options in the Future Wager for the 2023 Derby instead of the previous 22 or 23.
Perhaps it’s because Forte has had a defeat, when fourth in the Sanford (G3), that has put some off; perhaps it’s the fact his sire Violence hasn’t had any major U.S. winners at 1 1/4 miles (though he has in South America); perhaps the disappointment in Cave Rock’s defeat was a factor. Regardless, many players are looking elsewhere for their Derby winner, not surprising given that only two Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners have succeeded in the Derby. Forte is likely to be seen next in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park Mar. 4.
Cave Rock of course has the uncertainty factor of coming from the stable of Bob Baffert, who is suspended by Churchill Downs and thus unable to have a runner in the 2023 Derby. Cave Rock will need to earn points from another stable to get in the starting gates on the first Saturday in May, as do other potential Derby prospects National Treasure, Hejazi, Gandolfini, Fort Bragg, Arabian Knight, and Faustin.
Apart from Forte, there aren’t many horses that ran well in the Juvenile or the Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby prep races prior to the championship race that have caught the imagination as Derby contenders. The best of them at this stage looks to be Loggins, who gave Forte a tougher contest in the Breeders’ Futurity than he got from Cave Rock in the Juvenile; he’s been sidelined for a little while since then but could be back training at Fair Grounds shortly.
Also sidelined is the Steve Asmussen-trained Extra Anejo, one of the best-fancied runners in the Future Wager pools after a debut victory at Keeneland. He’s unlikely to return to training until January.
Loggins’ trainer Brad Cox looks to have as strong a team of Derby contenders as anyone. He prepared two winners at Fair Grounds Dec. 26 that could have Derby aspirations: Gun Runner S. victor Jace’s Road and Sugar Bowl hero Corona Bolt. He also trains Giant Mischief, a two-time winner who put up a great effort for second in the Springboard Mile to Wildatlanticstorm after missing the start badly, and the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) winner Instant Coffee.
Last year the Remsen S. (G2) was a great classic guide, won narrowly by subsequent Belmont (G1) winner Mo Donegal over future Kentucky Derby third Zandon. This year there was another tough battle, with Dubyuhnell and Arctic Arrogance clearing away from the others. Dubyuhnell was holding his opponent at the finish by half a length, but both horses have claims as Derby prospects.
Perhaps the most notable of the other contenders have been Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Practical Move and the highly-regarded Belmont maiden winner Signator.
So, will one of these horses head the Kentucky Derby field home in May? It’s very difficult to know at this stage. Forte is clearly the best-performed, ahead of Cave Rock and Loggins, while the most exciting are possibly Arabian Knight and Extra Anejo. Personally I’m a fan of Forte – he’s got a great turn of foot, loves a battle, and is extremely professional. But there’s a lot still to happen on the Derby road. Good luck trying to sort it out when Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3 opens Jan. 20!