forte derby favorite for now

By Dick Jerardi

The second round of Kentucky Derby preps are now over. The Big Six – Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, Arkansas Derby, Wood Memorial and Louisiana Derby – are on the immediate horizon.

The mutuel field (all others not listed) was the favorite in each of the first four Derby future pools from Churchill Downs. Pool 5, which was last weekend, saw a significant change. Forte, the 2-year-old champion and powerhouse winner of the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, was the 3-1 favorite when the betting stopped, with Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby winner Tapit Trice the second choice at 8-1. Both horses are trained by Todd Pletcher who will be going for his third Derby.

The field is the third choice at 10-1 as it now seems unlikely that some horse so unknown at this stage is going to emerge as the Derby winner. Then, there was Rich Strike last year, 80-1 on race day.

Forte is not only the most accomplished 3-year-old, he is also one of the fastest with his 98 Beyer figure in the Fountain of Youth. His devastating turn of foot makes him absolutely the horse to beat at this point, with the Florida Derby most likely his final prep for the first Saturday in May.

Arabian Knight may be the most talented horse of this 3-year-old class. But he missed some time, came back to work twice and, on Sunday, was declared off the Derby trail with an unspecified issue. Arabian Knight is now back in Bob Baffert’s barn after a brief time with Tim Yakteen (who is again subbing for Baffert as he remains banned from Churchill Downs tracks until after this Derby).

Baffert loves to run his top 3-year-olds in the Pennsylvania Derby so it would be no surprise if Arabian Knight ends up at Parx in September for the track’s signature race, perhaps after a run in the Travers. He also has the very fast Cave Rock who could end up at Parx.

Baffert thinks he may have the two best 3-year-olds and he may be right. But they won’t be ready for the KY Derby.

Arabian Knight was one of many Baffert-trained 3-year-olds recently transferred to Yakteen. This all stems, of course, from 2021 Derby winner Medina Spirit’s disqualification for having a prohibited-on-race-day anti-inflammatory in his system during a post race test.

Interestingly, Yakteen’s best 3-year-old appears to be a horse he has been training all along. A few hours after Forte won in Florida, Practical Move was just about as impressive in winning the San Felipe at Santa Anita. The colt got a 100 Beyer and kept extending his margin during a massive gallop out. Practical Move was 12-1 in the recent Derby pool.

So Forte and Practical Move seemed to have separated from the pack. Even though Tapit Trice was the second choice, that was likely recency bias. The colt got just an 88 Beyer at Tampa Bay Downs and that is not anywhere close to fast enough to give him a chance in the Derby.

 Now, we await those final major preps and try to put them into context, along with what we already know and what we are about to find out.

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