TDN Derby Top 12: The Real Running Starts Now

Forte | Sarah Andrew

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We've taken the plunge into the deeper end of the prep pool for the GI Kentucky Derby. Five nine-furlong stakes each awarding 100 qualifying points are scheduled over the next two Saturdays, after which this list will expand to the Top 20.

1) FORTE (c, Violence–Queen Caroline, by Blame) 'TDN Rising
Star'. O-Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; B-South Gate Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $80,000 Wlg '20 KEENOV; $110,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, MGISW, 6-5-0-0, $1,833,230. Last start: 1st GII Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream Mar. 4. Kentucky Derby Points: 90.

The further 'TDN Rising Star' and 2-year-old champ Forte goes in his sophomore campaign, the more favorably he compares to Nyquist, who was the last winner of the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile (and only the second Juvenile winner ever) to score in the Kentucky Derby. Each was put on a two-prep path at age three, consisting of an early March stakes victory followed by a try in the GI Florida Derby.

Where they differ, though, is in the level of difficulty of their respective Florida Derbies. In 2016, the connections of Nyquist took a gamble by shipping their colt cross-country from his California base to chase a $1-million Florida sales-grad bonus offered by Fasig-Tipton. Despite being the undefeated 2-year-old champ, the 6-5 Nyquist wasn't even favored in the Florida Derby (Mohaymen was at 4-5). But Nyquist wired the field commandingly, cementing favoritism in Louisville.

Forte, by contrast, will race over a Gulfstream surface over which he's already won emphatically, and he will be getting a considerable break in terms of competition. The draw for Saturday's Florida Derby landed him in post 11, but none of the 11 horses entered against him have ever been ranked in TDN's Top 12, and only one has ever won a stakes.

Beyond the obstacle of an outer post in a large field, the race, on paper at least, gives off a “damned if he does, damned if he doesn't” vibe that the champ will be up against.

If Forte trounces the field, it'll be reasoned he was supposed to beat up on such an overmatched crew based on his established gravitas as the divisional kingpin. The tall, lanky stalker has pasted nearly all comers over a six-race career that dates to last May 27 and includes only one forgivable loss in a Saratoga sprint stakes. None of the visual takeaways of his stretch runs offer evidence that he won't be able to handle pressure while negotiating longer distances.

If Forte runs well but narrowly loses, the result will likely elicit a positive-leaning connotation, along the lines that he wasn't fully cranked for the effort with his main goal being four weeks out.

But if Forte finishes off the board with no excuse? Yikes. He'll suddenly be perceived as vulnerable for the first time and the proverbial barn door will be knocked off its hinges by the crush of contenders rushing in to fill the Derby void.

2) PRACTICAL MOVE (c, Practical Joke–Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex) O-Leslie & Pierre Jean Amestoy & Roger Beasley; B-Chad Brown & Head of Plains Partners (KY); T-Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $90,000 RNA yrl '21 KEESEP; $230,000 2yo '22 OBSAPR. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 6-3-1-2, $434,200. Last Start: 1st GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita Mar. 4. Kentucky Derby Points: 60.

They don't drape a blanket of roses atop your shoulders on the first Saturday in May for looking like the most improved colt on the Derby contenders list at the end of March. But if they did, Practical Move would be this year's ideal fit.

This son of Practical Joke's progression toward the Apr. 8 GI Santa Anita Derby gives the impression of an ocean wave that did not at first appear menacing when in the distance, but now that it's nearing a crest, look out.

This Tim Yakteen trainee started five times in a four-month span at age two and his form in those races might have been shaded by running into some fairly accomplished foes while encountering repeated trip trouble.

A 10-1 upset in the GII Los Alamitos Futurity closed out this robust-framed colt's juvenile campaign. But Practical Move opened eyes with a 12-point Beyer jump when winning the GII San Felipe S. Mar. 4, uncorking a professional inside run despite enduring early bumping, a rank horse on the clubhouse turn, and a momentum stall on the far bend while jockey Ramon Vazquez patiently waited for an opening.

If you want a Derby horse who rates as “flashy,” look elsewhere. But if you lean toward a level-headed prospect who is quick enough to prowl behind strong fractions while having enough stamina to stick around late, Practical Move just might be your type.

3) TAPIT TRICE (c, Tapit–Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) 'TDN Rising Star' O-Whisper Hill Farm LLC and Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck); B-Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $1,300,000 Ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW,4-3-0-1, $100,150. Last start: 1st GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs Mar. 11. KY Derby Points: 50.

This gray son of Tapit who hammered for $1.3 million at KEESEP was back on the Palm Beach Downs work tab Friday, breezing a half-mile in :49.82 (11/31) nearly two weeks after closing with a desperate rush to win the GIII Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (88 Beyer).

From several perspectives–his dawdling break, the questionable quality of the competition, the four-point Beyer regression off his previous win–the Tampa excursion was not an artistic triumph for Tapit Trice.

Yet considering that this colt overcame self-inflicted trip adversity and closed capably through a final sixteenth clocked in an impressive :6.14, Tapit Trice remains poised to put forth a more polished version of the athletic prowess he displayed in his first three career races. That chance will come in his final Derby tune-up, the Apr. 8 GI Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland.

Only one horse has ever parlayed wins in both the Tampa and Kentucky Derbies–Street Sense in 2007. Street Sense, like Tapit Trice is being pointed to do, also attempted the Blue Grass S. in the interim. He was second, losing by a nose in a four-horse photo.

With Instant Coffee (Bolt d'Oro) never firing when sixth as the beaten 3-2 favorite in this past Saturday's GII Louisiana Derby, it appears that Tapit Trice is now the best Kentucky Derby shot for jockey Luis Saez.

4) GEAUX ROCKET RIDE (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo) O-Pin Oak Stud LLC; B-OXO Equine LLC (KY); T-Richard Mandella. Sales history: $350,000 yrl '21 FTKJUL. Lifetime Record: GSP, 2-1-1-0, $120,200. Last Start: 2nd GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita Mar. 4. Kentucky Derby Points: 20.

The GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby is shaping up as a showdown between the Nos. 2 and 4 headliners on this list. While Practical Move brings experience, this son of Candy Ride looms as a speed-centric threat who could have a decided advantage in a short field if the race comes up light on entries.

Geaux Rocket Ride was narrowly favored in the betting for the GII San Felipe S. and he gamely forced the issue on the front end of a high-tempo pace yet still managed to stay on determinedly in the final furlong to hold second even when it was clear that Practical Move had him beat.

In just two lifetime starts, Geaux Rocket Ride has paired 92 and 96 Beyers, and his transition out of a MSW sprint wiring to an off-Lasix stakes route was about as smooth as his connections could have hoped for. Note that the second- and fourth-place runners out of his Jan. 29 victory both came back to win their next starts, lending credibility to that sizzling debut.

Geaux Rocket Ride worked six furlongs in 1:13 flat Sunday at Santa Anita (2/6), after which his Hall-of-Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, quipped, “The rockets are ready to fire.”

5) DISARM (c, Gun Runner–Easy Tap, by Tapit) 'TDN Rising Star' O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (Ky); T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-2-1, $290,350. Last Start: 2nd GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Mar. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 40.

'TDN Rising Star' Disarm returns to the Top 12 off his runner-up try in the Louisiana Derby and I'm taking an ambitious gamble by leapfrogging him all the way up to No. 5 considering this colt hasn't won a race in nearly nine months.

Last summer, trainer Steve Asmussen said he had “high expectations” for Disarm, adding that in a June 19 third-place debut at Churchill, the colt “didn't do much correctly first time out, just because he's a big boy.”

But Asmussen expressed faith that this son of Gun Runner (out of a Tapit mare) would “stretch out beautifully” over time. Unfortunately, that didn't happen during his juvenile season, because after a blowout MSW win at the Spa over seven furlongs, Disarm was shelved in September for undisclosed reasons. After a second-place effort going a mile in an Oaklawn allowance Feb. 19 for his 2023 debut, he resurfaced at Fair Grounds Saturday.

Trying to chase a lone-speed pacemaker getting away with soft splits, Disarm was at a tactical disadvantage. His trip was further compromised by being caught behind the heels of a stablemate for most of his inside journey, and his stride stalled at several points during the race. Yet he still closed with purpose and earned a 90 Beyer for the effort.

Being up against the grain of a speed-favoring track also hurt his chances in the Louisiana Derby. There were 11 dirt races on the Mar. 25 card at Fair Grounds. Four were won in wire-to-wire fashion, six were won by pace-pressers who raced just off the lead, and one was won by a mid-pack stalker. Closers like Disarm got completely shut out. He'll be a live sleeper at well over 20-1 in Louisville.

6) REINCARNATE (c, Good Magic–Allanah, by Scat Daddy) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC & Catherine Donovan; B-Woods Edge Farm (Ky); Tim Yakteen. Sales history: $775,000 yrl '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-2-3-1, $231,900. Last Start: 3rd in the
GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn Feb. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 15.

Reincarnate, a $775,000 KEESEP colt by Good Magic, will bear the burden of favoritism in Saturday's GI Arkansas Derby, and deservedly so.

He's the controlling speed on paper and is exiting a difficult trip in the Feb. 25 GII Rebel S., in which he got bounced around at the break, advanced into contention, then had to check late. Still, he managed third (90 Beyer). Jockey John Velazquez rides back.

A big horse with a long stride, Reincarnate started his career with two turf tries (both seconds). He was then second in his dirt debut, and finally broke through in try number four at Del Mar Nov. 25, after which he took the Jan. 8 GIII Sham S., dueling all the way on the inside and earning a 95 Beyer at somewhat surprising 16-1 odds.

Reincarnate has never been off the board from six starts, all at a mile or longer, so the stamina base is there. The Arkansas Derby will offer a sharper picture of where this colt stands in terms of honing his chief tactical weapon, which is front-end force.

7) TWO PHIL'S (c, Hard Spun-Mia Torri, by General Quarters) O-Patricia's Hope LLC and Phillip Sagan; B-Phillip Sagan; T-Larry Rivelli. Sales History: $150,000 RNA Ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: MGSW, 8-4-1-1, $683,450. Last start: 1st GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Mar. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 123.

Figuring out whether or not nine-furlong Tapeta form will translate to 10-furlong dirt success is a bit like trying to understand voodoo. But the 101-Beyer win by Two Phil's in Saturday's GIII Jeff Ruby Steaks stamps him as an intriguing mid-tier threat on the Derby totem pole, and he has growing appeal as a 4-for-8 closer/stalker whose strengths are versatility and adaptability.

This son of Hard Spun has taken a somewhat unconventional path to Derby relevancy, having started as a 2-year-old at Colonial and Canterbury before breaking through with a 5 1/4-length win at 7-1 odds in the GIII Street Sense S. at Churchill, which came over a sealed and sloppy track.

After running second in the GII Lecomte S. and third in the GII Risen Star S., trainer Larry Rivelli took a risk by opting for a start over Tapeta at Turfway, over which Two Phil's had never raced.

Off as the 2.8-1 second choice in the Jeff Ruby, jockey Jareth Loveberry rated this colt three wide into the first turn, patiently kept him parked outside while sixth down the backstretch, then let Two Phil's unwind four deep through the far bend, always shadowing the move of the 1.7-1 fave Major Dude (Bolt d'Oro) before reeling in that rival without much of a fight in upper stretch.

True, no one else was firing down the lane to offer a fresh challenge. But Two Phil's finished up respectably under his own power, leaving the impression that he wasn't entirely sapped by the effort.

Two Phil's will train at Rivelli's Hawthorne-based stable, where he will remain under the radar until Derby day gets closer.

8) KINGSBARNS (c, Uncle Mo–Lady Tapit, by Tapit) O-Spendthrift Farm; B-Parks Investment Group (Ky); Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $250,000 yrl '21 FTSAR; $800,000 2yo '22 FTMAR. Lifetime Record: 3-3-0-0, $657,300. Last Start: 1st GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Mar. 25. Kentucky Derby Points: 100.

With the calendar on the cusp of flipping into April, Todd Pletcher has emerged as the deepest-stocked Derby trainer, with three colts ranked within the top eight on this list.

The 3-for-3 Kingsbarns is evolving into a no-nonsense frontrunner who knows his job and gets into gear without drama, having now handled the footing of three very different dirt surfaces (Gulfstream, Tampa, Fair Grounds) and shipping to each track from Pletcher's winter training base at Palm Beach Downs without apparent difficulty.

This Uncle Mo colt was assigned a 95 Beyer for his Louisiana Derby wiring. The win represents a nice progression through only 10 weeks of racing experience. But peering more closely at his  1:57.33 clocking for 1 3/16 miles does raise legitimate questions.

That final time is the slowest in four years since the Louisiana Derby got elongated from nine furlongs, and it's nearly a full second off the previous slowest clocking of 1:56.47. Granted, that's only a small sample. But also consider that Kingsbarns was virtually unchallenged through a tepid pace, and the speed-favoring track at Fair Grounds Mar. 25 definitely played to his running style. Both the pace pressure and the tempo will be ratcheted up considerably in the Kentucky Derby.

The Apr. 8 GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby will have an indirect impact on Kingsbarns. Flavien Part, who rode this colt for the first time in New Orleans, has a competing call aboard Geaux Rocket Ride in that Santa Anita stakes, meaning he might have to choose between mounts at some point.

9) ROCKET CAN (c, Into Mischief–Tension, by Tapit) O-Frank Fletcher Racing Operations Inc.; B-Woodford Thoroughbreds LLC (KY); T-Bill Mott. Sales history: $245,000 RNA Ylg '21 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: 5-2-1-0, $249,738. Last Start: 2nd GII Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream Mar. 4. KY Derby Points: 40.

The presence of No. 1-ranked Forte isn't what re-routed Rocket Can from the Florida prep path to Saturday's Arkansas Derby. This Into Mischief gray is owned by North Little Rock's Frank Fletcher, who is seeking his first victory in Oaklawn's premier stakes, a win he covets dearly because of the local connection to his home-state track.

Trainer Bill Mott has no problem accommodating an Oaklawn try by shipping Rocket Can to Hot Springs, and in the grand scheme of things, evading the formidable Forte in the same-day Florida Derby does look like a wise move.

Since stretching out to two turns back on Oct. 30, Rocket Can has finished 1-2-1-2 in four consecutive 1 1/16-miles races, the latter two being Gulfstream stakes.

His route-race Beyers look a little light (78, 82, 82, 91) compared to other Derby aspirants, but this gray has resonated as a “better than what you see on paper” type of prospect, earning style points for reliably pouncing off the far turn and throwing himself headlong into deep-stretch showdowns with an underdog flair.

Mott acknowledged after Rocket Can's second-place try behind Forte in the Mar. 4 GII Fountain of Youth S. that this colt got a little too wound up pre-race and was overly keen in the early stages of that race. Seeing how he acts in the post parade and during warmups will be crucial in assessing his chances Saturday.

10) RED ROUTE ONE (c, Gun Runner–Red House, by Tapit) O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC (Ky); T-Steve Asmussen. Lifetime Record: GISP, 7-1-2-1, $492,575. Last Start: 2nd in
Feb. 25 GII Rebel S. Kentucky Derby Points: 33.

Red Route One has never won on dirt, hasn't hit the winner's circle in more than six months, and has never been fancied as the favorite in any of his seven lifetime races.

Yet here he is, one prep race from the Derby and pegged at a comparatively lofty No. 10 within the Top 12 while commanding a qualifying spot at No. 16 in the points standings for Derby eligibility. He closed at a respectable 24-1 in the latest version of the Derby Future Wager back on Mar. 12, which might end up representing lower odds than he'll be in the Derby itself on May 6.

The chief reason this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred is so well-regarded this deep into the season has everything to do with his potential upside at longer distances. By Gun Runner out of a Tapit mare and with a come-from-behind running style, Red Route One has twice splashed home second at Oaklawn this winter in graded stakes, and in all five of his 1 1/16-miles dirt races since October he's given the appearance that he's just starting to get uncoiled when the finish line is looming.

Red Route One has drawn post 10 for Saturday's Arkansas Derby.

11) SLIP MAHONEY (c, Arrogate–Got Lucky, by A.P. Indy) O-Gold Square LLC; B-Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings & Philip Steinberg (Ky); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $150,000 yrl '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSP, 4-1-2-0, $126,100. Last Start: 2nd in GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct Mar 4. Kentucky Derby Points: 20.

Slip Mahoney's stout Arrogate-over-A.P. Indy pedigree is likely to serve him well when this Brad Cox trainee stretches out to nine furlongs in the Apr. 8 GII Wood Memorial.

This $150,000 KEESEP colt was slow from the gate and second best with a big late rush from 13th behind a 7 1/2-length runaway winner in the muddy GIII Gotham S. back on Mar. 4.

That one-turn mile was Slip Mahoney's first go outside of the maiden ranks and he likely got more out of the experience than it looks on paper.

He breezed a half mile in :48.40 (2/89) Saturday over the Belmont training track with assistant trainer Dustin Dugas up, working in company with a stakes-placed filly.

“The work was great,” said Dugas. “Slip Mahoney was on the inside and it was a really good move from the both of them. They broke off well and galloped out in 1:01, so it was a good gallop out. I was happy with it and both came back really well. He didn't really require much encouraging.”

12) CONFIDENCE GAME (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Eblouissante, by Bernardini) O-Don't Tell My Wife Stables; B-Summer Wind Equine, LLC (Ky); T-J K Desormeaux. Sales history: $25,000 yrl '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 7-3-1-2, $785,525. Last Start: Won Feb. 25 GII Rebel S. at OP. Kentucky Derby Points: 57.

Confidence Game's next start remains up in the air as trainer Keith Desormeaux mulls options that include the Apr. 8 Blue Grass S. at nine furlongs, the GIII Lexington S. at 1 1/16 miles one week later, or simply training up to the Kentucky Derby.

This $25,000 KEESEP Candy Ride colt earned a 94 Beyer when winning the Rebel S. back on Feb. 25, benefitting from a comfortable, mid-pack trip behind two long-shot speedsters and two favorites who never fired.

Confidence Game, an efficient strider who responds to rousing from his rider, got third run at the tiring leaders off the final turn in the Rebel, then largely avoided a crush of inside traffic with a wide stretch bid that included some outward wandering late.

Although he has seven races of experience (five of them routes), this is a colt I'd like to see in action at nine furlongs before more emphatically getting behind his chances in the Derby.

If he goes straight to Louisville after having been idle for 10 weeks and having never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, it would be a huge ask, especially considering that Desormeaux acknowledged Confidence Game “sort of lost his mind in the paddock” prior to his Rebel score.

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