Kentucky Derby 2023 Report: Forte still on top

Forte wins Florida Derby (Lauren King/Gulfstream Park Photo)

By Jarrod Horak

As mentioned in my previous Kentucky Derby 2023 report, Todd Pletcher dominated the points races in March with Forte, Tapit Trice, and Kingsbarns. Fast forward to April, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Forte cemented his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite by winning the Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on the first of the month. He overcame a tough outer post and wide trip to score by a length.     

In other Derby news, it looks like it might take 45 points to qualify for the Derby this year, and 15 horses have at least 45 Derby points through the preps on April 1. There are still three important preps on the docket (Blue Grass, SA Derby, Wood Memorial), and 15 horses will earn Derby points for finishing first through fifth in those points races on April 8. Only four horses with enough points to run in the Derby are slated to run in those aforementioned preps (Practical Move, Confidence Game, Raise Cain, Tapit Trice). That still leaves at least 11 other horses earning Derby points, and that does not count the Lexington Stakes on April 15, which is the final chance to earn Derby points. A horse like Instant Coffee might use that race as a last ditch effort to quality for the Kentucky Derby.  

Red Route One is currently in 20th place on the points list and Instant Coffee is on the outside looking in. Another horse in big trouble as it relates to points is National Treasure. He should already have 16 qualifying points after hitting the board in the American Pharoah (G1), BC Juvenile (G1), and Sham (G3). He currently has zero points because he was in the Bob Baffert barn for those races, and horses from his shedrow are ineligible to earn Derby points due to Medina Spirit’s medication positive in 2021. All horses had to be out of his barn by Feb. 28 in order to be eligible to earn Derby points, and this colt moved to the Tim Yakteen barn and entered the San Felipe (G2) on March 4. He had a sore foot and was forced to miss that start. He has worked four times for the SA Derby on April 8, and if my 45 points cutoff is correct, he would need to win his final prep in order to have enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby.   

I am downgrading horses from the Rebel Stakes (G2) based on how runners exiting that heat have performed in subsequent starts. Confidence Game won that event and has not run back yet. Red Route One was 2nd and he ended up 6th in the Arkansas Derby. The troubled show finisher in the Rebel was Reincarnate, and he occupied that same spot without an excuse in the Arkansas Derby. Bourbon Bash, 5th in the Rebel, ran last in the Arkansas Derby. Rebel also-rans Gun Pilot and Powerful returned to finish 2nd and 4th in the Hot Springs Stakes. Overall, five horses have run back with no wins.  

Kentucky Derby 2023 Points Race Results

Florida Derby – April 1 – Winner: Forte

This was much tougher than it looked on paper for Forte, but his winning spirit paid off in the end. Fort Bragg broke a touch slow and that actually helped his cause. He was able to ease over from post 10 and scoot to the front under Rosario, and he was clear early. Mr. Peeks and Mr. Ripple were in chase mode, and Forte was back in 9th place and racing wide from post 11. Second betting choice Mage was last early after a slow start. Fort Bragg continued to lead by 1 1/2 lengths through six panels. Cyclone Mischief was stalking wide and Forte and Mage were starting to advance. Fort Bragg started to weaken and Mage made a big wide move and struck the front. It looked like he might pull off the upset under Luis Saez, but the champ was gathering momentum. Forte was just too strong in the stretch and he scored by a length. Mage ran a big race in a clear runner-up finish, and Cyclone Mischief was best of the rest in 3rd. Mr. Ripple was a clear 4th and Fort Bragg weakened to 5th. Seven others also competed and the biggest disappointment was Dubyuhnell. He has not progressed since winning the Remsen (G2) last year. The final time was 1:48.51. Forte is 4-for-4 in dirt routes and is the deserving early Derby favorite. Mage is lightly raced and on the improve, but he did not race as a juvenile and lacks experience. Cyclone Mischief completed the trifecta behind Forte in the FOY and this race, and it looks like he has found some consistency for Romans.   

Arkansas Derby – April 1 – Winner: Angel of Empire

Two Eagles River was able to make the lead rather easily, and Reincarnate had a much better start on fast ground this time, and he chased from 2nd under Johnny V. Harlocap and Airtime were behind the leaders, post time favorite Rocket Can was outside and in midpack, and Angel of Empire was all by himself in 7th place and racing wide. Two Eagles River was still on top at the six panel mark and Reincarnate was just to his outside. It looked like the latter had the measure of the leader and it was only a matter of time before he would make the first run, but that did not happen. Instead, it was Angel of Empire making a strong wide bid for the lead, and in the blink of an eye he was in front and pulling away to score by 4 1/4 lengths. It was a mad 5-horse scramble for the minors. King Russell, the longest shot on the board at 58-1, had outside momentum and grabbed the place late. Reincarnate just held off Rocket Can for the show, and stalker Airtime was a head better than late runner Red Route One in the battle for the 5th spot. Two Eagles River weakened to 7th and Interlock Empire, Harlocap, and Bourbon Bash also ran. The final time was 1:49.68 and Angel of Empire was the only horse doing any real running in this event. It just looked like he handled the distance and the others did not. Reincarnate was on the right end of the show photo and that should get him into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, but I am not thrilled with his chances at 1 1/4 miles.    

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 – Winner: Tapit Trice ($3.00)

UAE Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – March 25- Winner:Derma Sotogake

Louisiana Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – March 25 –  Winner: Kingsbarns ($11.00) 

Jeff Ruby Steaks (100-40-20-10) – March 25  – Winner: Two Phil’s ($7.64)

Sunland Derby (50-20-15-10-5) – March 26 – Winner: Wild On Ice ($72.80)

Florida Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – April 1 – Winner: Forte ($2.60) 

Arkansas Derby (100-40-30-20-10) – April 1 – Winner: Angel of Empire ($11.40)

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 45 Kentucky Derby Points Leaders (thru 4-6-23)

190 Points: Forte 

154 Points: Angel of Empire

123 Points: Two Phil’s 

100 Points: Derma Sotogake (JPN)

100 Points: Kingsbarns

60 Points: Practical Move

60 Points: Rocket Can

57 Points: Confidence Game

54 Points: Raise Cain

50 Points: Wild On Ice

50 Points: Tapit Trice

50 Points: Mage

45 Points: Reincarnate

45 Points: Jace’s Road

45 Points: Cyclone Mischief

40 Points: Major Dude

40 Points: King Russell

40 Points: Disarm

34 Points: Sun Thunder

33 Points: Red Route One (20th place)


32 Points: Instant Coffee

30 Points: Continuar (JPN)

30 Points: Funtastic Again

26 Points: Classic Car Wash

24 Points: General Banker

20 Points: Congruent

20 Points: Hit Show

20 Points: Low Expectations

20 Points: Geaux Rocket Ride

20 Points: Slip Mahoney

20 Points: Mr. Ripple

20 Points: Shopper’s Revenge

20 Points: Wadsworth

19 Points: Classic Legacy

17 Points: Curly Jack

16 Points: Blazing Sevens

16 Points: Arctic Arrogance

15 Points: Henry Q

15 Points: Skinner

15 Ponts: Fort Bragg

14 Points: Verifying

13 Points: Shadow Dragon

10 Points: Victory Formation

10 Points: Dubyuhnell

10 Points: Lugan Knight

Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2023 Contenders (4-6-23)

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

He was the top juvenile in the land last year and remains the king of the hill after back-to-back wins in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). He was super in the former and workmanlike in the latter. He had to overcome a wide draw and outside closing trip in the latter event at 1 1/8 miles, and he just loves to compete. He is 6-for-7 overall and 4-for-4 around two turns. He is also a 4-time Grade 1 winner and is the deserving Kentucky Derby favorite.  

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

Everything about this one says Belmont Stakes contender. I loved his stretch run in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), but the problem for him is the starting gate, and we will find out if he can overcome his gate woes in his next scheduled start in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on April 8. He has worked twice at Palm Beach Downs since the TB Derby, including a second best of 24 half-mile breeze in 49.57 on April 1.   

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

I want to see if this one can overcome something after back-to-back perfect trip victories in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and San Felipe (G2). He saved ground chasing the pace and scooted up the rail in both of those races. 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. I like his tactical speed but his pedigree hardly screams 1 1/4 miles. He drilled a best of 95 bullet in 59.20 at Santa Anita on March 26, and worked 5f in 1:01.20 in his final SA Derby move on April 2.   

4 – ANGEL OF EMPIRE (Classic Empire – Harmony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve) – Trainer: Brad Cox

After he was 2nd to his front running stablemate Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones at one mile, his trainer Brad Cox said just wait until he gets more ground. He got his chance at added real estate in the Risen Star (G2) Feb. 18, and he got pace help, sat back patiently while racing outside, and rallied to beat a baker’s dozen that day. In the Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1, he did the same thing. He sat back while racing wide, and made an eye-catching move and pulled away to score by a very easy 4 1/4 lengths. This was a visually pleasing effort under Flavien Prat, and the PA-bred colt is on top his game with five weeks to go before the big dance. 

5 – KINGSBARNS (Uncle Mo – Lady Tapit, by Tapit) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

This one did not race as a juvenile. He captured his career debut at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14, and won a route at Tampa Bay second time out Feb. 12. He shipped to Fair Grounds and controlled the pace in an easy victory in the Louisiana Derby (G2) at 1 3/16 miles on March 25. Flavien Prat gave him a great ride at FG. There was just no early pace that day and this colt was more than happy when they handed him an easy lead. He just cantered around there without a straw in his path. The waters obvious get deeper on the first Saturday in May. The early-pressing type is 3-for-3 and his best races are in front of him, but the Ky Derby is a big ask for such a lightly raced runner.  

6 – DERMA SOTOGAKE (Mind Your Biscuits – Amour Pies, by Neo Universe) 

This rapidly developing Japanese runner started off slow with a trio of losses to begin his career last year. He rattled off three straight to end his juvenile campaign. He began 2023 with a solid show finish in the Saudi Derby (G3). The pace did not come back in that race and he fended off the late runners in a solid show finish. The UAE Derby (G2) was his coming out party. He got to the front, controlled the tempo, and poured it on in the lane in a visually impressive performance at 1 3/16 miles. The UAE Derby has not been a productive Kentucky Derby prep, but this colt is talented and could make some noise under the Twin Spires.

7 – TWO PHIL’S (Hard Spun – Mia Torri, by General Quarters) – Trainer: Larry Rivelli

This one just shows up every time. He won a minor stakes at Canterbury Downs last year, and spilt a 14-horse field from post 13 in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1). He caught the slop at CD in the Street Sense (G3) and skipped away last fall. He started 2023 with a solid runner-up finish in the Lecomte (G3) and completed the trifecta in the Risen Star (G2). He moved to all-weather ground in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at 1 1/8 miles March 25, and he closed wide and won that race impressively. That was a fast final prep and this overachiever will give it his all under the Twin Spires. 

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

He landed the show as a maiden in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last year. His Feb. 12 maiden return was excellent. 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 returned to the stakes ranks in the San Felipe and was the only closer making up any ground in a respectable show finish. He worked 5f in 59.20 (4/81) in his final move prior to the SA Derby. 

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

He was straight 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 worked 5f in 59.20 on April 2, and his next start will come in the SA Derby. 

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

Last year, he won his debut, completed the exacta in the Champagne (G1), and had an uncomfortable start when finishing 6th of 10 in the BC Juvenile (G1). He looked 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 too close to lively fractions and was stuck in traffic along the inside. The Blue Grass will be his final Derby prep, and he worked five panels in 59.40 at Keeneland on March 31.  

11 – NATIONAL TREASURE (Quality Road – Treasure, by Medaglia d’Oro) – Trainer: Tom Yakteen

He captured his sprint bow and hit the board in his next three stakes starts. He was clearly second best in the American Pharoah (G1) and ended 2022 with a solid show finish in the BC Juvenile (G1). He had an uncomfortable trip when checking in 3rd in the Sham (G3) in his first and only 2023 start in January. He had a sore foot and scratched out of the San Felipe (G2) on March 4. He got back on the worktab with a 6f bullet on March 14, and worked 5f in 1:00 flat five days later. He drilled a 6f bullet on March 26, and most recently logged 6f in 1:12.60 on April 2.  The SA Derby is next and he probably needs to win his final prep to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. 

Next Nine: (12) Mage, (13) Confidence Game, (14) Reincarnate, (15) Cyclone Mischief, (16) Rocket Can, (17) Jace’s Road, (18) Disarm, (19) Blazing Sevens, (20) Raise Cain

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