HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Forte got challenged, and the Kentucky Derby favorite had all the answers.
Next stop: The Run for the Roses.
With a big move in the final furlong, Forte — who was way back early after drawing the 11th post in a 12-horse race and didn't take the lead until the very last strides — won Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. It was Forte's sixth win in seven career starts and only further cemented his status as the likely one to catch at Churchill Downs in five weeks.
“This is amazing,” co-owner Mike Repole said. “I didn't mind the outside post because I said he'd get a ton of experience. He got a ton of experience. I have to be honest with you: I didn't think he was going to win. ... This is the most impressive win he's had in his career and this horse is getting better and better and better.”
It was the fifth consecutive victory for Forte, all of them either at the Grade 1 or Grade 2 levels — highlighted by his win at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year at Keeneland.
That put him in the Kentucky Derby favorite conversation, and two wins at Gulfstream so far in 2023 have only made the spotlight seem brighter. He rolled to a 4-1/2 length win in the Fountain of Youth, then won the hard way on Saturday.
“This horse is a superstar,” Repole said.
Sent off at overwhelming 1-5 odds — it was 1-9 about 20 minutes before post time — Forte covered the 1-1/8 miles in 1 minute, 48.51 seconds and returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10. Mage ($3.40, $2.60) was second, Cyclone Mischief ($3.20) was third and Mr. Ripple was fourth.
Forte is co-owned by Repole and St. Elias Stable’s Vincent Viola — who also owns the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Repole and Viola have teamed for success before, most notably with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso in 2019. It was the same connections then: Todd Pletcher training, Irad Ortiz Jr. riding, Repole and Viola owning.
Pletcher is now a seven-time Florida Derby winner.
Forte already had 90 points in the Kentucky Derby qualifying standings and was a lock to have a spot in the 20-horse field; now with 190 points, it's academic. Mage got 40 points for finishing second and now has 50 points toward the Derby, which will likely be good enough to qualify. Cyclone Mischief got 30 points, improving his total to 45 and probably should have a Derby spot as well.
Forte had won five of six starts coming into Saturday; the other 11 entrants in the field had combined for 14 wins in 47 starts. Forte’s earnings were $1,833,230; the other 11 horses hadn’t even combined to earn half that, with $870,385 as their total purses entering the race.
“This horse is just gaining weight, gaining confidence, just really getting better every week,” Repole said. “It’s pretty special to have him right now.”
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