Forte solidified his status as favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1) on Saturday while providing anxious moments for his numerous backers in winning the $1 million Florida Derby (G1).
The 3-10 favorite under Irad Ortiz Jr. in the 1 1/8-mile Gulfstream Park fixture, Forte was saddled with post 11 and was thus forced to concede plenty of early position. Even after making a wide bid into contention on the far turn, Forte had to wait a little longer and follow second choice Mage, who had surged past from farther back in the field to make his own overland bid turning into the stretch.
Playing catch-up in upper stretch and still fifth a furlong out while Mage began to pull away, Forte called on all his class and found it inside the final sixteenth to win by a length.
“I was worried, he had a lot to do turning for home,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He had to angle out really wide and kind of got a wide trip all the way around there, but he had a pretty smooth run it; he just had to lose a lot of ground to do it. It looked like he had a lot to do still at the eighth pole but then really kicked in the last part and found his best stride the last sixteenth.”
Owned by Mike Repole and St. Elias Stable, Forte covered the course in an initially-reported 1:48.51 over a fast track and paid $2.60. On Sunday, however, Equibase issued a corrected final time of 1:49.37.
Cyclone Mischief, two lengths behind Mage in third, was followed by Mr. Ripple, pacesetter Fort Bragg, Il Miracolo, West Coast Cowboy, Jungfrau, Nautical Star, Mr. Peeks, Dubyuhnell, and Shaq Diesel.
Forte earned an additional 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, boosting his total to 190. Mage earned his first 50 points, while Cyclone Mischief increased his total from 15 to 45. Mr. Ripple earned 20 points, while Fort Bragg increased his total from five to 15.
Last year’s champion juvenile colt, Forte will head to Churchill Downs with six wins from seven starts. He’s won every stakes appearance, with the exception of his black-type debut last summer in the Sanford (G3), when he finished fourth. He’s since reeled off five straight wins: the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Fountain of Youth (G2), and now the Florida Derby.
Bred in Kentucky by South Gate Farm and sold for $110,000 at Keeneland September, Forte is by Violence and out of multiple stakes winner Queen Caroline, by Blame.