In the wake of the electrifying 27th renewal of the Dubai World Cup, it feels very much like the curtain has come down on a preeminent part of the racing season. Yet as we spectators await Act II of 2023, there surely will be much to savour in the spring and early summer months as the American and European Classic seasons unfold and Royal Ascot blooms.
Results at Meydan imply that owners and breeders on both sides of the Atlantic need to develop more superior runners and, hopefully, be willing to send some of the best far afield to prove their merits (or risk ceding the international realm to Japan) rather than opt for early retirements. In America, that pursuit of the next group of stars has entered the ritually critical phase spearheaded by the Kentucky Derby, and an irrefutable favourite for the Triple Crown series was confirmed on 1 April in the dark bay form of $1 million Florida Derby victor Forte.
Already the American Champion Juvenile Male of 2022, Forte not only racked up the fourth Grade One win of his seven race career to date, he also demonstrated he has the meaningful ability to overcome adversity and seize victory from the jaws of what appeared to be certain defeat.
LEFT WITH A LOT TO DO
Near the rear of the 12 runners early after starting from post 11, Forte was only fifth at the stretch call of the 1m1f race as Mage took the lead. Suddenly, however, Forte began to extend himself so much that his body visibly lowered to the ground with his propulsion. In what seemed to be a flash, the son of Violence surged ahead, ears pricked, and then even geared down as he crossed the Gulfstream Park finish line under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. “I was worried; he had a lot to do turning for home,” admitted trainer Todd Pletcher, who was winning a record extending seventh Florida Derby.
“He had to angle out really wide and kind of had a wide trip all the way around there, but he had a pretty smooth run, he just had to lose a lot of ground to do it,” Pletcher added. “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 16th.” All signs before, during and after the race were positive for Forte.
"GETTING BETTER AND BETTER"
“He just continues to amaze us. He gets better and better,” Pletcher said. “He handled the stretch out to a mile and an eighth great and actually probably ran a mile and three sixteenths today (considering how wide he travelled). It gives you a lot of confidence moving forward.” Even though he became somewhat sweaty in the warm Florida weather during the post parade, Forte kept himself together despite a large and noisy crowd and lengthy pre-race activities, another good sign prior to the raucousness he will face at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.
“He gained a lot of experience today. That experience hopefully pays off down the road,” Pletcher observed. While Forte is by far the standout among American 3yos at this stage, as well as the overall leader by Kentucky Derby qualifying points with 190, he will still have to overcome the hurdles and opposition ahead.
His rivals in Louisville are expected to include not only impressive Arkansas Derby winner Angel Of Empire but two Japanese runners emerging from the UAE Derby in winner Derma Sotogake and third placed Continuar, the latter earning the trip to Kentucky via qualifying points from his Cattleya Stakes win at Tokyo in November.
Of course, nothing is easy in racing at the top level. Yet so far, Forte has more than lived up to his name (which means a pursuit or activity at which someone excels) through his near perfect record with six wins and earnings of over $2.4 million.
He also has the Classic genes for the job ahead, descending from the same female family as Godolphin mare Contrive, who produced American champion Folklore, later known as the granddam of Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail, and Delightful Quality, dam of Godolphin’s twice champion and Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality.
Forte is the kind of colt who gets people excited about horse racing. He also is the kind of colt who could not only harvest a Classic crown this year, but who could bring the Dubai World Cup trophy back to America in 2024.