HOW HE GOT HERE
The 2022 Two Year Old Champion in the United States will come into the Kentucky Derby riding a six race winning streak. After breaking his maiden towards the end of last May, he ran an even fourth in the Sanford Stakes (G3) before commencing his run. He took out three straight Grade 1’s to end 2022, including a tough earned win in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity in what turned out to be a very productive race, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
In 2023, he romped home in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, beating a few horses that earned spots in the Derby starting gate in Mage and Rocket Can. Forte then followed up that effort with his final prep being a win in the Florida Derby (G1). However, his performance that day only hurt his Derby chances for multiple reasons. Visually, it was the weakest performance he’d put forth since his only career defeat in July. From a figure standpoint, it was a continued pattern of regression from his two year old campaign. After putting up a 100 Beyer when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), he dropped two points to a 98 in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), and regressed even more so in his final Derby prep when throwing a 95 Beyer. There could be reasons for the drop in that last start, however, as he was forced further off the pace than he ever had been in his career and covered more ground than any of his competition that day.
HOW HE FITS HERE
There is no arguing that Forte is the most proven horse in this year’s Derby. He loves to win, has handled large fields on many occasions throughout his career, and has won on the biggest stages. Even with his regression on speed figures he still has the best overall numbers in this likely Derby field. He also has a fairly versatile running style. While he does need a target, he can still sit within 2 to 3 lengths of the lead and pack the same punch when five lengths further back.
Additionally, being the Two Year Old Champion has been a positive sign in recent runnings of the Kentucky Derby. From 2015 to 2021, the juvenile champions Derby performance went as followed:
2015 – American Pharoah – 1st
2016 – Nyquist – 1st
2017 – Classic Empire – 4th
2018 – Good Magic – 2nd
2019 – Game Winner – 5th
2020 – Storm the Court – 6th
2021 – Essential Quality – 4th
Sure, every horse and every Derby are different, but with Forte’s form combined with these numbers it’s certainly comforting to backers that a good precedent has been set for Two Year Old champs.
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CONNECTIONS AND PEDIGREES
It’s been hard to knock Forte’s resume to this point and his connections aren’t any help.
He is trained by Todd Pletcher, the highest earning trainer in American racing history and a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby (2010 & 2017). It could be pretty easy to target his Derby record as a flaw – 62 starts: 2 wins, 8 placings – but when you sift through who he’s actually run in the Derby and look at those with top level form, they tend to run very well.
Forte has been guided in every start by Irad Ortiz Jr. and things will be no different on the First Saturday in May. He is a four-time Eclipse Award winner for Champion Jockey and has won a pair of Triple Crown races, taking the Belmont Stakes in both 2016 and 2022. It is worth noting that Ortiz’s record in the Kentucky Derby has not been strong. From six mounts he is yet to finish in the money, although he was fourth in the 2019 version with Improbable and fifth last year with Mo Donegal. It is also worth mentioning that his last three mounts all went off at 10-1 or less and failed to finish in the money, including the aforementioned Improbable going off the post time favorite in 2019.
Forte’s pedigree presents the same mix of speed and stamina that he has displayed throughout his career. He is by Violence, one of the country’s rising young stallions, who has typically been known for throwing blazing sprinters but has recently had offspring improving at route distances. Forte gets the majority of his stamina from the dam side. His mother, Queen Caroline, was a multiple stakes winner on the grass at middle distances (1 mile to 1 1/8 miles), and is by Blame, the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
Forte will be a deserving favorite come post time of this year’s Kentucky Derby. He has done it all right throughout his career and has proven he can take his race anywhere with success. The colt sports some of the best connections around and has a versatile running style that will aid him plenty in a race like the Kentucky Derby.
However, there is valid reason to worry about his speed figure regression, as well as his ability to stay the 1 1/4 Mile distance of the Run for the Roses. He’s an interesting study leading into the biggest race of his career. It’s hard to make a case he’ll run poorly, but will he run well enough to win?
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