Kentucky Derby Report: Forte brings top credentials to the New Year

January 6th, 2023

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series opened in late September, but the prep season doesn’t get into full swing until the New Year. And the first qualifier of 2023 took place at Oaklawn Park on New Year’s Day, the Smarty Jones.

Twenty-six additional point races will be offered for the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1) over the next 3 1/2 months.

Let’s examine a few early storylines.

Points no issue for Forte

Forte concluded his juvenile campaign with three consecutive Grade 1 wins, including a 1 1/2-length triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland, and the presumptive champion two-year-old male easily tops the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 40 points.

And based upon the first 10 years of the Kentucky Derby points system, Forte’s practically guaranteed a spot in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate with 40 points. The bay colt is by Violence.

Trained by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Todd Pletcher, Forte has plenty going for him, but his Brisnet Speed ratings won’t scare away the competition. He registered only a 96 figure recording a neck win in his first two-turn attempt, the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and his 100 Speed rating for the Juvenile is the lowest winning number in the last six years

Forte leads the way among Kentucky Derby prospects entering the New Year, but it’s a tenuous edge.

Health concerns

A pair of well-regarded prospects, Extra Anejo and Loggins, are not in serious training. And their status will remain clouded until an official workout is logged.

Extra Anejo, an Into Mischief colt for Steve Asmussen, romped by 9 1/2 lengths at first asking, netting a commendable 95 Speed rating over the about seven-furlong distance at Keeneland. He was preparing for the Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds before being sidelined in mid-November, and Extra Anejo could return to Asmussen’s barn in the coming weeks.

Loggins, a fast runaway debut maiden winner at Churchill Downs, missed by only a neck to Forte when making his second start in the Breeders’ Futurity. The inexperienced colt ran a winning race in defeat, doing the dirty work on the front end before being edged late, but the Brad Cox-trained son of Ghostzapper has not worked since. Loggins is expected back at Cox’s barn by the end of January, but we won’t get a proper gauge until he returns to the worktab.

Baffert suspension

Bob Baffert is suspended by Churchill Downs Inc. through the end spring meet (July 3), which means his horses aren’t eligible to receive qualifying points for the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

Smarty Jones recap

Victory Formation rolled to a convincing wire-to-wire win in the Smarty Jones, remaining unbeaten in his third career start for Cox. From the first crop of 2017 Belmont (G1) winner Tapwrit, Victory Formation was exiting an entry-level allowance tally on the Nov. 26 Stars of Tomorrow II program, and he scored by three lengths while stretching to a two-turn mile.

He looked the part and is bred for longer distances, and Victory Formation added the right jockey, Flavien Prat, who has recorded a 1-1-2 record from five Kentucky Derby starts. But the bay colt earned only an 89 Brisnet Speed rating, a six-point drop from his previous outing at six furlongs.

There’s still time for improvement – Orb registered an 89 Speed fig in his seasonal opener before winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

Prospects of interest

Banishing dueled for the lead until the conclusion of the far turn and drew off spectacularly in the stretch of a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Fair Grounds on Dec. 26, recording a 96 Brisnet Speed rating for the 8 1/2-length decision. The Ghostzapper colt was making his second career start and two-turn debut for Brendan Walsh.

Blazing Sevens posted a convincing win in the Champagne (G1) over a sloppy track two back, offering a sharp turn of foot from off the pace in both wins. The Chad Brown-trained son of Good Magic didn’t get away cleanly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, rallying belatedly for fourth following the troubled start.

Curly Jack ranks second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, winning the Iroquois (G3) and most recently finishing third in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), and the Good Magic colt has shown versatility in terms of run style for Tom Amoss. But after failing to register a Speed rating higher than 86 in the last three outings, Curly Jack must step up at age three.

Dubyuhnell, whose off-the-turf maiden win the second time out did not come back fast, jumped forward when making his stakes debut in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct in early December, earning a 100 Speed figure. By Good Magic, the Danny Gargan-trained colt displayed improved speed tracking the pacesetter to the top of the stretch, winning going away by a half-length.

Expect More, a Pletcher-trained City of Light colt, lost all chance when missing the break in his career debut, trailing by double-digit lengths until launching an eye-catching rally for third off the far turn. He came back to finish first as the odds-on choice in a Dec. 31 maiden at Gulfstream, racing up close before advancing to the fore, but was disqualified for interfering with Jungfrau. The top two could be stakes-bound next out.

Instant Coffee broke slowly and was under an early ride to keep up behind a glacial pace in the Kentucky Jockey Club (six furlongs in 1:15.02), but the Cox-trained favorite finally grabbed hold of the track on the far turn, launching a wide bid to strike the front in deep stretch and win clear under the wire. A rallying fourth after leaving himself too much to do in the Breeders’ Futurity, Instant Coffee wasn’t among the fastest juveniles last season, but the son of Bolt d’Oro has impressed in spots while lacking focus in all three starts.

Jace’s Road notched his first stakes triumph when leading wire-to-wire in the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds, winning under wraps by a widening 5 1/2-length gap. By Quality Road, the Cox trainee never fired after being fractious during the post parade of the Street Sense S. two back, and while he didn’t beat much in the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner, Jace’s Road registered a 98 Speed rating.

Jungfrau needed a few starts before earning his diploma, and is still learning for Bill Mott, and he left a favorable impression winning via disqualification over Expect More. The Arrogate colt was knocked sideways by his wayward rival in upper stretch, losing ground and momentum, but Jungfrau responded with a determined late charge to miss by a nose in the head-bobber. He may keep advancing off the confidence-builder.

Point Proven stylishly graduated when making his first two-turn attempt in a 1 1/8-mile maiden on the Nov. 26 Stars of Tomorrow II program at Churchill, accelerating from just off the pace to a five-length score, and his Brisnet numbers rose significantly in his third outing. Pletcher trains the promising son of Gun Runner.

Practical Move surprised at 10-1 in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) on Dec. 17, launching a bold rail move into the stretch to win going away by open lengths over a pair of Baffert runners. A maiden victor via disqualification in his previous two-turn start and an even third in the seven-furlong Bob Hope (G3), Practical Move hails from a stamina-influenced female family, and the Tim Yakteen-trained son of Practical Joke merits respect after netting a 105 Speed rating.

Shesterkin rolled to a sharp wire-to-wire victory when making his career debut in a seven-furlong maiden at Gulfstream on New Year’s Eve, netting a commendable 93 Speed figure for the 2 1/4-length triumph, and the Pletcher-trained Violence colt will bring speed to upcoming engagements.

Signator ran to his 3-5 odds when trying a mile at Aqueduct the second time out on Oct. 14, offering a strong turn of foot into the stretch to win going away by nearly five lengths. The gray Tapit colt, a $1.7 million two-year-old purchase, rates as an exciting prospect for Shug McGaughey.

Wadsworth adds further depth for Cox, offering a complete display of authority when breaking his maiden wire-to-wire by 10 lengths at Turfway on Dec. 31. The regally-bred son of Quality Road required four starts to graduate, recording unplaced efforts at Saratoga, Keeneland, and Churchill Downs before breaking through on Tapeta, and perhaps turf will prove to be his specialty. It will be interesting to see if Wadsworth can back up the eye-catching maiden win.

Up Next

Saturday’s Jerome S. takes place over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct, and Remsen runner-up Arctic Arrogance, one of four New York-breds in the eight-horse field, has been installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the 20-point qualifier (points awarded on 10-4-3-2-1 scale). Lugan Knight, who exits a third to Victory Formation in the aforementioned Churchill allowance, is my top pick.

I’ll review the Jerome and Sunday’s Sham (G3) at Santa Anita next week.