Kentucky Derby Report: Stylish return performance for the champ

March 9th, 2023

Champion juvenile male Forte came back impressively in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, one of four Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifiers offered on March 4.

After prevailing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last fall, Forte offered a powerful turn of foot into the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, opening a commanding advantage before being taken in hand late by Irad Ortiz Jr., and his 4 1/2-length decision came back fast.

The Todd Pletcher-trained will make his final prep in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) on April 1.

Forte registered a career-best 103 Brisnet Speed rating, the top figure from 16 Kentucky Derby qualifiers in 2023. San Felipe (G2) winner Practical Move is the only other active three-year-old to register a triple-digit number.

Rocket Can was no match for Forte finishing a clear second, but the Bill Mott-trained colt continued to build upon his win in February’s Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream, netting a 98 Speed figure.

Following a convincing win in December’s Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), Practical Move was overlooked as the 4.20-1 fourth choice in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe at Santa Anita. He closely stalked the pace before offering an inside move off the far turn, surging to a clear lead and rolling home to a 2 1/2-length score. The Practical Joke colt confirmed himself as a serious contender out west for Tim Yakteen.

Last-out maiden winners Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner, the respective favorite and second-choice in the San Felipe wagering, ran well for second and third. Geaux Rocket Ride, an inexperienced Candy Ride colt who captured his career debut at six furlongs on Jan. 29, ran huge in his first two-turn outing, and I like his positional speed. Skinner, a late-running son of Curlin, has really come on in his last two outings for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John Shirreffs.

Raise Cain looked the part visually in the Gotham (G3) over a muddy Aqueduct track, overcoming being checked in upper stretch to win by a 7 1/2-length margin, but he netted only a 90 Speed figure in the one-turn mile event. The winner and runner-up Slip Mahoney are bred to appreciate longer distances, and they’ll need to run faster while stretching out in distance next time.

Gulfstream turf stakes performer Congruent took to Turfway Park’s Tapeta track in the John Battaglia Memorial S., closing boldly from last to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths, and the Tapit colt picked up 20 points toward a Kentucky Derby berth. Trainer Antonio Sano may wheel Congruent back three weeks later for Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), a major Kentucky Derby qualifier at Turfway.

Pool 5 Kentucky Derby Future Wager

Wagering interests in the Kentucky Derby Future Wagers nearly doubled this year, going from 24 to 40 options, and that creates the opportunity for value in Pool 5 this weekend (March 10-12).

The top three individual choices on the morning line – Forte, Arabian Knight, and Practical Joke – will take action and the “All Others” option will be overbet, as well.

Lecomte (G3) winner Instant Coffee is listed at 30-1 on the Pool 5 morning line in advance of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 25. He’ll be the favorite at Fair Grounds and if he keeps progressing as I expect, Instant Coffee will be set for a top try at Churchill Downs. I’ll look to lock him in at double-digit odds.

Tactical ability appears to be an asset given how the 2023 Kentucky Derby is shaping up, and Rebel (G2) winner Confidence Game (30-1) and Geaux Rocket Ride (20-1) possess the speed to make their own trip. I’ll consider both if the odds aren’t too low on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Derby

Tapit Trice heads a field of 12 in Saturday’s $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), a 1 1/16-mile qualifier offering a combined 100 points (50-20-15-10-5) toward a Kentucky Derby berth, and the Pletcher-trained colt will be shorter than his 8-5 morning line at post time. It will be his first start at two turns, but it’s tough to knock the up-and-coming son of Tapit following a fast eight-length allowance romp.

I’m intrigued by his stablemate Shesterkin, a sharp wire-to-wire maiden winner two back who surprisingly rated off a moderate pace before recording a non-threatening second to Tapit Trice last time. That wasn’t the right trip, and Pletcher adds blinkers and new jockey Edgard Zayas, who will try to steal it over a speed-favoring Tampa track.