Author: Lindsay Griffin
Nowadays, it seems like many two-year-old champions fail to impress at age three, regardless of how impressive they were as juveniles.
Corniche, Storm the Court, and Game Winner are recent Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Males whose sophomore campaigns were complete flops. Corniche and Storm the Court never won again after their coronations, and Game Winner only ever claimed victory in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby.
However, a few champions have carried on their brilliance. Good Magic won the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes and the Grade I Haskell Stakes. Nyquist and Essential Quality both claimed victory in a Triple Crown race and of course, American Pharoah took the whole crown for himself.
You can see all the past winners of the race here: twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/winners
While we know, of course, that Forte is no flash in the pan- he won both the Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Grade I Florida Derby- the question remains: is Forte beatable in this year’s Kentucky Derby?
Even when compared to other champions, Forte had a standout juvenile season. He won on debut at Belmont Park in May and vaulted straight into graded stakes competition. He suffered his only career loss in the Grade III Sanford Stakes, then proceeded to reel off victories in Saratoga’s Hopeful Stakes and Keeneland’s Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, all Grade Is.
In the spring, Forte picked up where he left off, making mincemeat of a good field in the Fountain of Youth and proving his grit in a more narrow finish in the Florida Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher took Always Dreaming from a win in the Florida Derby to a Kentucky Derby victory in 2017, and he looks to do the same thing with Forte.
Forte’s pedigree features speed on top with stamina on the bottom. His sire, Violence, won three out of four career starts before injury forced his retirement, but he counted among his victories the Grade II Nashua Stakes and the Grade I CashCall Futurity. Forte’s dam, the stakes winning mare Queen Caroline, is by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame.
Forte will, of course, have nineteen actual rivals to defeat on the first Saturday in May. To comment on each horse’s chances would make for exhaustive reading, but thankfully there are a handful of horses who are Forte’s most likely roadblocks.
Two of those horses are Forte’s own stablemates. Grade I Blue Grass Stakes winner Tapit Trice, a huge gray son of Tapit, has relatively little early speed but has a dangerous closing kick once he gets rolling. On the other hand, Grade II Louisiana Derby winner Kingsbarns has plenty of early speed, which he used to his advantage. He toyed with the field for the entirety of the race to remain undefeated in three lifetime starts.
Kingsbarns will likely have to contend for the lead with the Japanese invader Derma Sotogake, who qualified for the Kentucky Derby with a dominant win in the Grade II UAE Derby on the same day Kingsbarns took his final prep. If either horse gets an easy lead, Forte may struggle to catch them without risking a speed duel. If Derma Sotogake and Kingsbarns hook up and burn each other out on the lead and Forte is too close to the pace, then that may set the race up for a deep closer like Tapit Trice. A lot also depends on the post position draw, which happens at the beginning of Derby week.
Forte has yet to do anything wrong in his career; however, to take a Kentucky Derby, everythings has to go right on that date at that time. Forte is certainly the most accomplished horse in the field, and he may well be the most talented, but other factors such as the pace scenario and the post position may lead to the Derby gods favoring another horse.