July 18, 2024

Forte strongly favored in Florida Derby; Dorth Vader stretches back out in Gulfstream Park Oaks

Forte wins the 2022 Hopeful at Saratoga (Coglianese Photography)

The $1 million Florida Derby (G1) goes through Forte, and the consensus might be so will the Kentucky Derby (G1) if the champion juvenile colt turns in another impressive performance in Saturday’s highlight at Gulfstream Park.

Forte is a standout on paper, but one curveball was thrown at him over the weekend when he drew post 11 in a field of 12, a generally tough assignment over Gulfstream’s 1 1/8-mile configuration. However, bettors are unlikely to be swayed too much as Forte was made the 4-5 morning line favorite.

Victorious last season in the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Forte made an excellent return to the races in early March, running away from the pack by 4 1/2 lengths in the Fountain of Youth (G2) as the 1-2 choice under Irad Ortiz Jr.

“The Fountain of Youth couldn’t have gone any better for us,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Florida Derby a record six times. “When Irad and I spoke before the race we kind of had a certain plan in mind and sort of had laid out where we hoped he would be. As you know a lot of times when the gate opens things can change and you have to be prepared to adjust to that, but really the race unfolded almost exactly the way we thought it would, and we were in exactly the position we hoped we would be. The real key is when called upon, he was there.”

Fort Bragg invades from Southern California following a fifth-place effort to stablemate Practical Move in the San Felipe (G2). It was the colt’s season debut and his first race since his transfer from trainer Bob Baffert to Tim Yakteen. In four starts last season for Baffert, Fort Bragg won a maiden at Santa Anita and finished a distant third to Practical Move in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2).

Cyclone Mischief and Mage were a distant third and fourth, respectively, in the Fountain of Youth. Mage arguably has more upside heading into the Florida Derby, given his rough passage in the Fountain of Youth in what was only his second career start.

Also in the Florida Derby lineup is Remsen (G2) winner Dubyuhnell, who was well below par in last month’s Sam F. Davis (G3) in his season debut, and West Coast Cowboy, most recently third in the Holy Bull (G3).

The Florida Derby will offer Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 100-40-30-20-10 to the respective top five finishers.

Dorth Vader, who sprung a 46-1 upset of the Davona Dale (G2) last month, will have her two-turn prowess tested for only the second time in her career in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), a 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Oaks (G1) qualifier for three-year-old fillies.

Sent off at long odds after a dull performance in her previous start at Tampa, Dorth Vader humbled her Davona Dale rivals by 4 3/4 lengths going a mile. However, she was well beaten in her only prior two-turn attempt by Atomically, who enters Saturday’s race after a third-place finish in the seven-furlong Forward Gal (G3) in her season debut.

“She obviously wasn’t very mature at the time. She really wasn’t ready for the mile and a sixteenth in my opinion, but she ran creditable that day and got a nice check,” said trainer Michael Yates of Dorth Vader’s distant third to Atomically in last fall’s My Dear Girl division of the Florida Sire S.

In addition to Atomically, Pletcher has another serious contender in Miracle, who grudgingly yielded to Pretty Mischievous by three parts of a length in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds in her most recent start. Affirmative Lady, who belatedly broke her maiden on Feb. 26 in her fifth start, has already earned some Oaks qualifying points, courtesy of a runner-up finish in the Demoiselle (G2) and a third in the Busanda S. two back.

Kentucky Oaks points of 100-40-30-20-10 are also up for grabs to those fillies that finish in the top five of the Gulfstream Park Oaks.