Forte Guts It Out in Curlin Florida Derby

Forte | Lauren King

There's your favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby.

Repole Stable and St Elias Stable's champion and 'TDN Rising Star' Forte (Violence) punched his ticket to Louisville with a dramatic, come-from-behind victory as the 1-5 favorite in Saturday's GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Up against it from the get-go exiting from a much-discussed gate 11 draw in a field of 12 with a short run to the first turn, the $110,000 Keeneland September graduate was off to an alert beginning and raced in traffic to the clubhouse turn before setting deep and with only a couple of rivals behind as the slow-starting Southern Californian invader Fort Bragg (Tapit) burned across to lead clear.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. had the big favorite worse than midfield and in about the five path nearing the half-mile marker, at which point he began to get busy. But so, too, did Mage (Good Magic), who raced at the tail early on, in the slipstream of Forte towards the end of the backstretch and got first run with a powerful sweep around the turn. Racing in a pocket for a stride or two, but with ample galloping room, Forte allowed Mage to go on with it and he dueled with Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief)–who had also sat a wide trip from a high draw–into the final furlong. But produced down the center, Forte did his best work through the line and was comfortably clear by a length at the end of the nine furlongs. Mage was second; Cyclone Mischief was third.

The Florida Derby offered 200 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby with the first five finishers earning points on a 100-50-30-20-10 basis.

“I was worried, he had a lot to do turning for home,” said winning trainer Todd Pletcher after a record-extending seventh Florida Derby victory. “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.”

Pletcher continued, “He got a lot of experience today. The one good thing about here is you get a big crowd, a noisy crowd, long post parade, so they get exposed to a lot. That experience hopefully pays off down the road.”

Repole added, “I knew it was going to be a big test for him. I didn't mind him having the 11 post. I thought he got an incredible education. I, too, at the eighth pole was saying, we're going to get second or third, and he just kept going and going and going. It was pretty special.”

Forte captured three straight Grade I events during his championship season in 2022, capped by an impressive success in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland Nov. 4. The dark bay returned to the races with a stylish tally in Gulfstream's GII Fountain of Youth S. Mar. 4.

“He just continues to amaze us,” Pletcher said. “He gets better and better. He handled the stretchout to a mile an eighth great and actually probably ran a mile and three-sixteenths today. It gives you a lot of confidence moving forward.”

Pletcher had previously counted Scat Daddy (2007), Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015), Always Dreaming (2017), Audible (2018) and Known Agenda (2021) for Florida Derby victories.

Mage, a sharp debut winner going seven furlongs on the GI Pegasus World Cup undercard at Gulfstream Jan. 28, was an unlucky fourth while making his two-turn debut in the Fountain of Youth. Cyclone Mischief, also exiting the Fountain of Youth, made it two straight third-place finishes behind Forte.

Pedigree Notes:

Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola bought 43 yearlings for more than $16 million to top the sheets for the first of two straight years at the 2021 Keeneland September sale. Forte was a $110,000 purchase out of that auction.

Forte is one of six Grade I winners for Violence. Forte's broodmare sire Blame has 12 stakes/six graded winners out of his daughters. Blame is also the sire of Saturday's impressive GIII Fantasy S. heroine Wet Paint, a leading contender for the GI Kentucky Oaks.

Forte is the first foal out of Queen Caroline, with her now-juvenile colt by Uncle Mo hammering for $850,000 to Mayberry Farm at Keeneland September. She lost her 2023 foal by Not This Time and was bred to Flightline in 2023. Her third dam is the MGSW Jeano (Fappiano), whose descendants also include champions Folklore (Tiznow) and Essential Quality (Tapit); Japanese champion Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}); and additional GISW Come Dancing (Malibu Moon). The family traces tail-female to the great La Troienne through her Broodmare of the Year granddaughter by War Admiral, Striking.

Saturday, Gulfstream
CURLIN FLORIDA DERBY PRESENTED BY HILL 'N' DALE FARMS AT XALAPA-GI, $1,000,000, Gulfstream, 4-1, 3yo, 1 1/8m, 1:48.51, ft.
1–FORTE, 122, c, 3, by Violence
                1st Dam: Queen Caroline (MSW, $401,608), by Blame
                2nd Dam: Queens Plaza, by Forestry
                3rd Dam: Kew Garden, by Seattle Slew
'TDN Rising Star'. ($80,000 Wlg '20 KEENOV; $110,000 Ylg '21
KEESEP). O-Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; B-South Gate
Farm (KY); T-Todd A. Pletcher; J-Irad Ortiz, Jr. $576,600.
Lifetime Record: Ch. 2-year-old colt, 7-6-0-0, $2,409,830.
Werk Nick Rating: A++.
Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Click for the
free catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Mage, 122, c, 3, Good Magic–Puca, by Big Brown.
TYPE. ($235,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP; $290,000 2yo '22 EASMAY).
O-OGMA Investments, LLC, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing
LLC and CMNWLTH; B-Grandview Equine (KY); T-Gustavo
Delgado. $186,000.
3–Cyclone Mischief, 122, c, 3, Into
Mischief–Areyoucominghere, by Bernardini. 1ST G1 BLACK
TYPE. ($450,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP). O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC
and Castleton Lyons; B-Castleton Lyons & Kilboy Estate (KY);
T-Dale L. Romans. $93,000.
Margins: 1, 2, 2. Odds: 0.30, 4.70, 13.10.
Also Ran: Mr. Ripple, Fort Bragg, Il Miracolo, West Coast Cowboy, Jungfrau, Nautical Star, Mr. Peeks, Dubyuhnell, Shaq Diesel.
Click for the chart and the PPs. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.

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