Kentucky Derby 2023 Report: Forte is back

Forte wins Fountain of Youth Stakes (Adam Coglianese Photo)

By Jarrod Horak

The road to Kentucky Derby 2023 is picking up serious momentum. Two-year-old champion Forte made his much anticipated return in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 4, and he did not disappoint. He solidified his position as the early Kentucky Derby favorite with another strong stalk and pounce victory at 1 1/16 miles. On the West Coast, Los Alamitos Futurity hero Practical Move made his first start of the year in the San Felipe Stakes on March 4, and he worked out another dream inside tactical trip to make it two straight graded route tallies.   

In other Derby news, all Bob Bob Baffert runners had to move to other barns by Feb. 28 in order to be eligible to earn Derby points. Cave Rock did not so he is no longer under consideration for the Derby. Same goes for Faustin, and those two drop off my list completely.

Blazing Sevens never picked up his feet in his Fountain of Youth return, so he drops off my list. 

National Treasure was my top choice in the San Felipe, but he had a sore foot and scratched. He is back jogging and is expected to have a workout in the near future. He is now conditioned by Tim Yakteen, but since he was in the Baffert barn for the American Pharoah, BC Juvenile, and Sham, he still has zero Derby points despite hitting the board in all three of those races. Due to all of those factors, he drops out of my Top 11. He can regain the chase if he runs well and picks up enough points in his final Derby prep.

Kentucky Derby 2023 Points Race Results

Rebel Stakes – Feb. 25 – Winner: Confidence Game

There was a lot going on in this $1 million Derby prep. The track was sloppy and sealed, and the pace was quick. Powerful and Frosted Departure carved out the fractions (22.75, 46.17, 1:11.75). Verifying saved ground behind those two, and his stablemate Giant Mischief was chasing outside. Lurking behind those two was Confidence Game, and Red Route One was miles behind everyone else in last place in the 11-horse field. The two early leaders got tired, and Giant Mischief briefly struck the front, but he was too close to the fast pace and could not quicken in the lane. Confidence Game sat a perfect midpack trip while out in the clear under James Graham, and he made a wide move and rolled past Giant Mischief while getting the jump on the closers to score by a length. Red Route One was so far back that he could barely see the horse in 10th place. He launched a big rally to finish a clear 2nd. West Coast shipper Reincarnate ran a quality race in a show finish. He was a fast track early runner in SoCal, but he shipped out of state for the first time and caught a wet track, and he was shuffled back early and found himself back in 9th place. That was not his only trouble. He raced in traffic and was bothered by Bourbon Bash in the stretch, and that was exactly when Red Round One was making his move, and he got caught in a squeeze play.  He recovered quickly and ran on nicely for the show in a fine effort. Verifying had a nice ground saving stalking spot but did not have clear sailing around the far turn into early stretch. He finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Reincarnate and was probably too close to the pace. Bourbon Bash made a move from off the pace but could not sustain it. He needs less ground. Giant Mischief probably has distance limitations as well but he ran a quality race here. He was pushed out around the first time and was the first to move into strong fractions. They will probably give him one more chance around two turns. Ultimately, he might be a Woody Stephens and/or H. Allen Jerkens horse at seven panels later this year. Gun Pilot, Frosted Departure, Powerful, Event Detail, and Talladega also ran. The final time was a solid 1:44.21. Confidence Game is improving but others behind him had less than ideal trips, especially Reincarnate. This was the deepest Derby prep to date.  

Fountain of Youth – March 4 – Winner: Forte

My top choice General Jim scratched and that left a field of 9, and juvenile champ Forte was much the best. Cyclone Mischief set the pace at 15-1 odds and Dangerous Ride, Rocket Can, and a wide, slow starting Mage chased him. Forte tucked in 5th under Ortiz Jr. and was always traveling smoothly. Cyclone Mischief was still there and Rocket Can was turning up the heat, and Mage tried to go with them. Forte moved out, made a wide move for the lead, and pulled well clear to win by a very comfortable 4+ lengths. Rocket Can grabbed the place by 1 1/4 lengths over Cyclone Mischief, and Mage was well clear of the rest in 4th. Shadow Dragon was up for 5th and Il Miracolo, Dangerous Ride, a very disappointing Blazing Sevens, and Legacy Isle also competed. The final time was a solid 1:43.12 and Forte solidified his status as early Derby favorite.    

Gotham – March 4 – Winner: Raise Cain

This was one of the most difficult handicapping puzzles on the Derby trail to date. It was run in the mud and featured a field full of early-pressing types. Carmel Road rushed to the fore and battled with Recruiter and Eyeing Clover through strong splits of 22.52 and 45.53. He was done in the lane and that goes for all of the forwardly placed runners. The pace completely collapsed and the Top 3 finishers rallied from 11th, 13th, and 12th. Raising Cain rolled outside to score by 7+ lengths at 23-1 odds under Jose Lezcano. Slip Mahoney was up for 2nd and New York-bred closer General Banker just grabbed the show at 30-1. Eyeing Clover did the best of the forwardly placed runners. He chased wide from an outer post and missed the show by a nose. Clear the Air rallied for 5th as a 44-1 outsider. Nine others ran including Jerome hero Lugan Knight (7th) and Los Al Futurity runner-up Carmel Road (8th). The final time was 1:38.09 and I did not think much of this Derby prep around one turn. I will be playing shippers in the Wood Memorial.   

San Felipe – March 4 – Winner: Practical Move

This was almost a carbon copy of the Los Al Futurity for Practical Move. The Tim Yakteen runner save ground behind front runner Carmel Road before scooting up the rail and kicking away in the former race. In this race, he did the same thing. He saved ground behind Hejazi and Geaux Rocket Ride, and he came though along the rail to score by 2 1/2 lengths. Geaux Rocket Ride finished a solid 2nd as the betting favorite, and Skinner came running for the show and was the only closer making up any ground. Hejazi weakened to 4th and Fort Bragg stalked wide and finished a clear 5th. Mr Fisk, Chase the Chaos, and Genius Jimmy were next, and maiden Bluegrass Go Go was rank, eased, and walked off. The final time was 1:42.01.  

John Battaglia Memorial – March 4 – Winner: Congruent 

The pace was honest thanks to Brad Cox trainee American Speed. That one was intent on the front through rapid splits of 22.99 and 45.93. He was done after six panels and the patient runners took over in the lane. Congruent, breaking from post 12 under Sonny Leon, was patiently handled at the back of the pack. He moved up wide and had all of the momentum while scoring by an easy 3 1/2 lengths. My value top choice Scoobie Quando was up for the place and could have been closer with a different trip. He was racing along the inside for much of the running, but had to wait for running room. He made a nice sustained run for the place once he got clear sailing. Bromley closed, led, and just held 3rd by a nose over fellow premature moving closer Moon Landing. Miranda Rights was an even 5th and beaten favorite Gilmore stalked the lively fractions and had no answer in the stretch. Eyes On the King chased from 2nd and retreated, and he was followed by Accident, Aristocracy, Good Heart, Freezing Point, and American Speed. The final time was 1:43.02 and the top two will probably move on to the Jeff Ruby.  

Kentucky Derby 2023 Points Race Results

Iroquois (10-4-3-2-1) – Sept. 17 – Winner: Curly Jack ($23.66)

Champagne (10-4-3-2-1) – Oct. 1 – Winner: Blazing Sevens ($19.00)

American Pharoah (10-4-3-2-1) – Oct. 8 – Winner: Cave Rock ($2.80)

Breeders’ Futurity (10-4-3-2-1) – Oct. 8 – Winner: Forte ($10.86)

BC Juvenile (30-12-9-6-3) – Nov. 4 – Winner: Forte ($12.04)

Ky Jockey Club (10-4-3-2-1) – Nov. 26 – Winner: Instant Coffee ($5.08)

Remsen (10-4-3-2-1) – Dec. 3 – Winner: Dubyuhnell ($10.00)

Los Al Futurity (10-4-3-2-1) – Dec. 17 – Winner: Practical Move ($23.20)

Springboard Mile (10-4-3-2-1) – Dec. 17 – Winner: Wildatlanticstorm ($32.00)

Gun Runner (10-4-3-2-1) – Dec. 26 – Winner: Jace’s Road ($6.80)

Smarty Jones (10-4-3-2-1) – Jan. 1- Winner: Victory Formation ($3.20)

Jerome (10-4-3-2-1) – Jan. 7 – Winner: Lugan Knight ($9.10)

Sham (10-4-3-2-1) – Jan. 8 – Winner: Reincarnate ($35.00)

Lecomte (20-8-6-4-2) – Jan. 21 – Winner: Instant Coffee ($4.60)

Southwest (20-8-6-4-2) – Jan. 28 – Winner: Arabian Knight ($2.80)

Withers (20-8-6-4-2) – Feb. 4 – Winner: Hit Show ($4.60)

Holy Bull (20-8-6-4-2) – Feb. 4 – Winner: Rocket Can ($7.20)

Robert Lewis (20-8-6-4-2) – Feb. 4 – Winner: Newgate ($4.00)

Sam F. Davis (20-8-6-4-2) – Feb. 11 – Winner: Litigate ($7.60)

El Camino Real Derby (10-4-3-2-1) – Feb. 11 – Winner: Chase the Chaos ($10.40)

Risen Star (50-20-15-10-5) – Feb. 18 – Winner: Angel of Empire ($29.40)

Rebel (50-20-15-10-5) – Feb. 25 – Winner: Confidence Game ($39.00)

Fountain of Youth (50-20-15-10-5) – March 4 – Winner: Forte ($3.00)

Gotham (50-20-15-10-5) – March 4 – Winner: Raise Cain ($49.00) 

San Felipe (50-20-15-10-5) – March 4 – Winner: Practical Move ($10.40)

John Battaglia Memorial (20-8-6-4-2) – March 4 – Winner: Congruent ($35.00)

Tampa Bay Derby (50-20-15-10-5) – March 11 

UAE Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – March 25

Louisiana Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – March 25 

Jeff Ruby Steaks (100-40-20-10) – March 25

Sunland Derby (50-20-15-10-5) – March 26 

Florida Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – April 1 

Arkansas Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – April 1 

Wood Memorial (100-40-30-20-10) – April 8

Blue Grass (100-40-30-20-10) – April 8

SA Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – April 8

Lexington (20-8-6-4-2) – April 15 


Top 35 Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru 3-10-23)

90 Points: Forte

60 Points: Practical Move

57 Points: Confidence Game

54 Points: Angel of Empire

54 Points: Raise Cain

40 Points: Rocket Can

33 Points: Red Route One

32 Points: Instant Coffee

24 Points: Sun Thunder

24 Points: General Banker

23 Points: Two Phil’s

20 Points: Congruent

20 Points: Hit Show

20 Points: Litigate

20 Points: Geaux Rocket Ride

20 Points: Slip Mahoney

17 Points: Curly Jack

16 Points: Blazing Sevens

16 Points: Arctic Arrogance

15 Points: Reincarnate

15 Points: Jace’s Road

15 Points: Skinner

15 Points: Cyclone Mischief

14 Points: Verifying

13 Points: Shadow Dragon

10 Points: Victory Formation

10 Points: Dubyuhnell

10 Points: Lugan Knight

10 Points: Hejazi

10 Points: Mage

10 Points: Eyeing Clover

10 Points: Tapit’s Conquest

08 Points: Scoobie Quando

08 Points: Denington

07 Points: Hayes Strike

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2023 Contenders (3-10-23)

1 -ARABIAN KNIGHT (Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology) – Trainer: Tim Yakteen

He looked like a future star after his romping sprint bow at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard. He made his first start of the year in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Jan. 28. The track was sloppy and sealed, and he made short work of the competition in a facile 5 1/2 length tally over Red Route One. His first work since the Southwest was an easy 3f move at SA on Feb. 13, and the rains hit SoCal after that. The weather finally improved and he zipped 5f in 59.20 at Santa Anita on March 4, and had a 6f move in 1:13.60 on March 9. He has moved from Baffert to Yakteen and is now eligible to earn Derby points. The SA Derby is expected to be his next start.   

2 -FORTE (Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

The juvenile champ rattled off Grade 1 wins in the Hopeful, Breeders’ Futurity, and BC Juvenile last year, and he picked up where he left off in the Fountain of Youth (G2) on March 4. His three graded wins at 8.5f were eerily similar, and you have to like his positional speed and finishing kick. The Florida Derby is probably next and he continues to be the early Derby favorite. 

3 – REINCARNATE (Good Magic – Allanah, by Scat Daddy) – Trainer: Tim Yakteen 

I am warming up to this one the more I see him, and he has a very nice route foundation. He landed the place in his first two turf routes last year. He switched to dirt and stalked wide in a runner-up finish behind his stablemate Fort Bragg, and set a pressure pace and gamely prevailed by a bit less than a length in his flat mile maiden win last November. He was pressured throughout and beat next-out stakes winner Newgate by a neck in the Sham (G3), and National Treasure was a clear 3rd that day. He shipped to Oaklawn for the Rebel (G2) and that might have been his best effort yet. He caught a wet track and was shuffled back early under Johnny V. The early-pressing type found himself back in 9th place and worked his way through traffic, was bumped around in the stretch, and finished best of all in a clear show finish. He got his name because his owner thought he looked like Holy Bull, and the versatile sort sure has a fighting spirit. He might be a Silver Charm type. He got back to work with a half-mile move in 47.80 at Santa Anita on March 9.   

4 – INSTANT COFFEE (Bolt d’Oro – Follow No One, by Uncle Mo) – Trainer: Brad Cox 

He is just one solid closer. He raced wide and was clearly best in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. There was not much pace in that race, but that was not the case in the Lecomte, and he took the latter by 2 1/2 lengths. He can close into fast or slow fractions and his numbers are on the rise. He was purposely kept out of the Risen Star and will have his final Ky Derby prep in the LA Derby at Fair Grounds on March 25. His first move since the Lecomte was an easy half-mile breeze at Fair Grounds on Feb. 18, and he has had three solid moves since. 

5 – PRACTICAL MOVE (Practical Joke – Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex) – Trainer: Tim Yakteen

I still do not completely buy into this one after back-to-back perfect trip wins in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and San Felipe (G2). He beat Carmel Road in the former and that one returned to disappoint in the Gotham Stakes. In the San Felipe, he beat debut sprint winner Geaux Rocket Ride and last-out maiden winners Skinner and Hejazi.  

6 – TAPIT TRICE (Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

This one sure seems ready for prime time. He got going a bit too late when finishing a solid 3rd of 9 as the beaten favorite in his flat mile bow at Aqueduct last fall. He rolled home from off the pace at that same venue second time out, and runner-up Slip Mahoney returned to graduate Jan. 21 and completed the exacta in the Gotham (G3) March 4. Pletcher’s colt elevated his game in his last optional claiming start at the Gulf. He showed improved tactical speed and burst away to score by six lengths Feb. 4. He is scheduled to make his next start in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) March 11. 

7 – SKINNER (Curlin – Winding Way, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: John Shirreffs

He raced three times last year without winning. Two of those were G1’s and he did land the show in the Del Mar Futurity. His Feb. 12 return was excellent. He was back in the special weight ranks, and he sat back while racing wide, and kicked away to win by a strong 3 1/4 lengths. That was a fast flat mile event and he found his best stride late. He return to the stakes ranks in the San Felipe for patient trainer Shirreffs, and he came running for the show in a respectable effort. 

8 – GEAUX ROCKET RIDE (Candy Ride – Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo) – Trainer: Richard Mandella

He was fast and strong when dusting next-out winner Sonoran in his sprint bow Jan. 29. Mandella threw him to the wolves in the San Felipe (G2) second time out, and he chased Hejazi early and never stopped trying in a runner-up finish behind Practical Move. He was surprisingly the favorite in the San Felipe considering his lack of experience, and he should have gotten plenty out of that heat. The unraced 2-year-old will probably move on to the SA Derby. 

9 – CONFIDENCE GAME (Candy Ride – Eblouissante, by Bernardini) – Trainer: Keith Desormeaux

This one might be getting good at the right time, but it is also possible that he sat the right trip on a wet track in the Rebel (G2). In that graded points race at Oaklawn, he sat in a perfect outside midpack spot behind lively fractions. He got the jump on the late runners and upset the field by a length. He lost his other two stakes starts in the Iroquois (5th) and Lecomte (3rd). He has started seven times and the early-pressing type proved he could pass horses last time. We will learn much more about him in his final Derby prep at 1 1/8 miles.  

10 – VERIFYING (Justify – Diva Delete, by Repent) – Trainer: Brad Cox

Last year, he won his bow, completed the exacta in the Champagne (G1), and had an uncomfortable start when finishing 6th of 10 in the BC Juvenile (G1). He ran great in his first start at Oaklawn Park this year. He was a sharp pressing winner in a flat mile optional claimer Jan. 14, and the 2-3 finishers were next-out winners. In the Rebel (G2), he was took close to lively fractions and was stuck in traffic along the inside. He deserves consideration in his final Derby prep. He breezed an easy half-mile in 50 flat at Fair Grounds on March 11.  

11 – GIANT MISCHIEF (Into Mischief – Vertical Oak, by Giant Oak) – Trainer: Brad Cox

He ran too good to lose in the Springboard Mile after blowing the break. I was not sure about the added ground when I made him my top choice in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on February 25, and I still do not know what to make of him after that race. He was too close to a fast pace and moved to the lead too soon. He weakened late and probably deserves another chance in a two turn points race. Ultimately, he is probably best up to a mile. His latest morning workout was a half-mile breeze in 49.80 at Fair Grounds on March 10.    

Next Nine: (12) Angel of Empire, (13) National Treasure, (14) Hit Show, (15) Red Route One, (16) Rocket Can, (17) Litigate, (18) Two Phil’s, (19) Congruent, (20) Raise Cain 

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