By Jarrod Horak
The road to Kentucky Derby 2023 is suddenly Todd Pletcher’s playground. His talented juvenile champion Forte was excellent in his seasonal bow in the Fountain of Youth, and he is the solid Derby favorite after that easy victory on March 4. Fast forward one week, and his $1.3 million Tapit colt Tapit Trice overcame a slow start and finished with gusto to capture the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Those two make a formidable duo. Their stablemate Litigate won the Sam F. Davis (G3) on Feb. 11, but he had a recent setback and is off the Derby trail.
In other Derby news, Arabian Knight has been removed from Derby consideration after a lackluster workout on March 9. The unbeaten Southwest (G3) hero moved from the Bob Baffert barn to the Tim Yakteen shedrow prior to Feb. 28 in order to be eligible to earn Derby points. He was preparing for the SA Derby (G1) and will now return to the Baffert barn. If all goes well, he is expected to return to action in the summer and fall.
Blazing Sevens remains on the Derby trail despite an up the track finish in his Fountain of Youth return. He is targeting the Wood Memorial.
National Treasure was forced to miss the San Felipe due to a sore foot. He got back on the worktab March 14.
Kentucky Derby 2023 Points Race Results
Tampa Bay Derby – March 11 – Winner: Tapit Trice
A dozen 3-year-olds lined up in the 1 1/16 miles test, but one horse stood out on paper, and he did not disappoint after giving his backers some anxious moments. That horse was Tapit Trice and he was languishing near the back of the pack after a slow start. He has had slow starts before, but this one was probably caused by the gate antics of Groveland. The latter was restless in the gate, and Tapit Trice was two stalls over and kept looking at him. Groveland continued to be antsy and after finally settling, the latches sprung and Tapit Trice broke last. As for the pace, it was honest with Dreaming of Kona, Zydeceaux, and Prairie Hawk sparring for six furlongs. Classic Car Wash was the first patient runner to make a move. Tapit Trice was still back in 9th place at this stage, and it looked like he was struggling a bit with the kickback. Classic Car Wash poked his head in front and it briefly looked like he would pull off the 13-1 upset, but Tapit Trice was given his cue in the stretch under Luis Saez, and in the blink of an eye he was rolling past them all and won going away by two lengths. Classic Car Wash was second best and Classic Legacy was best of the rest in 3rd. Those two battled for minor awards in the Sam F. Davis (G3) as well. Prairie Hawk stayed on for 4th and Lord Miles was an even 5th. Dreaming of Kona, Shesterkin, Groveland, Zydeceaux, Mikey Bananas, Champions Dream, and Freedom Road also ran. The final time was a respectable 1:43.37. Tapit Trice has raw ability and upside, and he is still learning. As a son of Tapit, the Belmont Stakes immediately leaps to mind.
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 – Tapit Trice ($3.00)
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 3-21-23)
90 Points: Forte
60 Points: Practical Move
57 Points: Confidence Game
54 Points: Angel of Empire
54 Points: Raise Cain
50 Points: Tapit Trice
40 Points: Rocket Can
33 Points: Red Route One
32 Points: Instant Coffee
26 Points: Classic Car Wash
24 Points: Sun Thunder
24 Points: General Banker
23 Points: Two Phil’s
20 Points: Congruent
20 Points: Hit Show
20 Points: Geaux Rocket Ride
20 Points: Slip Mahoney
19 Points: Classic Legacy
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: Mage
10 Points: Eyeing Clover
10 Points: Prairie Hawk
10 Points: Tapit’s Conquest
08 Points: Scoobie Quando
Jarrod Horak’s “Exceptional Eleven” Kentucky Derby 2023 Contenders (3-21-23)
1 -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 next and he continues to be the early Derby favorite. His first work since the Fountain of Youth was an easy half-mile breeze in 50.72 at Palm Beach Downs on March 17.
2 – 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, and drilled six panels in 1:12.40 on March 18. The Arkansas Derby is probably his next target.
3 – 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 four solid moves since.
4 – 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. I like his tactical speed but his pedigree hardly screams 1 1/4 miles. He worked a half-mile in 47.60 on March 18, and the SA Derby is his next target.
5 – TAPIT TRICE (Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher
His stretch run in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) was impressive to say the least, but he was the fastest horse on paper by far and was expected to win that race. This closer has giant strides and gobbles up ground in a hurry. His Achilles heel is the starting gate. He always seems to break slow. It did not cost him in his maiden win or allowance victory, and he overcame it again in the TB Derby, but he gave his backers a few anxious moments in the latter race. He cannot afford to make mistakes as the competition gets tougher. Look for him to make his final Derby prep stop in the Blue Grass.
6 – 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 an easy half-mile on March 13, followed by a more serious five panel move on March 19, and they will probably move on to the SA Derby.
7 – 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 worked a half-mile in 49.20 on March 18, and his next start will come in the SA Derby.
8 – 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. The Rebel reportedly took a lot out of him, and he finally got back on the worktab with an easy half-mile breeze on March 18.
9 – 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 too 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, followed by a 5f drill in 1:01.20 on March 18.
10 – NATIONAL TREASURE (Quality Road – Treasure, by Medaglia d’Oro) – Trainer: Tom Yakteen
I have always liked this one. He was sharp in his sprint bow, and it has been nothing but graded route stakes since. 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) earlier this month. He got back on the worktab with a 6f bullet on March 14, and worked 5f in 1:00 flat five days later. It looks like he is healthy again, and we might see him in the SA Derby or Blue Grass Stakes.
11 – BLAZING SEVENS (Good Magic – Trophy Girl, by Warrior’s Reward) – Trainer: Chad Brown
Chad Brown gave this one a nice 2-year-old foundation last year. He won his summer bow at Saratoga, and checked in 3rd in the Hopeful (G1) at that same venue second time out. He rallied outside and beat Verifying in the slop in the Champagne (G1), and ended up a clear 4th after a troubled beginning in the BC Juvenile (G1). He had not missed a beat on the Payson Park worktab prior to the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park on March 4, but he never picked up his feet in that event. Chad Brown says he did not handle the footing at the Gulf, so he is just drawing a line through that clunker. He breezed a solid half-mile in 49.20 at Payson Park on March 18, and he is expected to ship to New York for the Wood Memorial.
Next Nine: (12) Angel of Empire, (13) Hit Show, (14) Red Route One, (15) Rocket Can, (16) Jace’s Road, (17) Two Phil’s, (18) Congruent, (19) Raise Cain, (20) Denington