Twenty horses will line up for Saturday’s 149th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, and the 1 1/4-mile race has a definitive favorite in #15 Forte, winner of five consecutive stakes races in advance of the Run for the Roses.
Bettors must decide whether to side with the favorite, or elect to take on Forte. I’m in the latter category.
Brisnet Speed and Pace ratings are my go-to, and Forte’s numbers regressed in his final prep, the Florida Derby (G1), according to multiple metrics. He ran faster in juvenile races, which isn’t a positive sign, and while Forte remains a candidate to move forward significantly after a less-than-favorable trip in the Florida Derby, that race marked his first start beyond 1 1/16 miles and Forte was all-out in a field that lacked depth.
After netting a 103 Speed rating in the Fountain of Youth (G2) in early March, Forte’s number decreased by three points in the Florida Derby, but he wouldn’t be the first horse to shrug off a hard-fought win that raised scrutiny.
In 2012, I’ll Have Another established himself as a legitimate contender recording a fast and convincing win in the Robert B. Lewis (G2), but supporters jumped off the bandwagon after he was forced to gut out a nose win and his Speed rating dropped four points in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). He came back to capture the Kentucky Derby at 15-1.
Forte will be a much shorter price, and I’ll shop for better value under the Twin Spires.
#14 Angel of Empire didn’t look like a Kentucky Derby contender at the start of 2023, but he’s moved forward in every start at age three, including a 4 1/4-length score in the Arkansas Derby (G1) that netted a 101 Speed rating, one of the top figures in the 2023 Kentucky Derby field. He raced more toward midpack, never more than 4 1/2 lengths back at any call, and unleashed a terrific turn-of-foot on the far turn to strike the front turning for home.
After training forwardly at Churchill Downs, Angel of Empire appears likely to keep progressing for Brad Cox, and he’s my pick for the Kentucky Derby.
#2 Verifying enters
on the upswing for Cox following an outstanding neck second in
the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. He’s naturally quick and displayed
fine speed last time, but the well-built colt has never been asked for speed in
his races. That changes Saturday: Tyler Gaffalione will be hustling his mount
from an inside post, and Verifying is my projected pacesetter. He could prove
tough to get past if he makes the early lead.
Blue Grass winner #5 Tapit Trice brings a favorable pattern to the race, and he appears more than capable of challenging for the win in my estimation with the right trip. I don't like the inside draw for the slow-starting gray, but I won’t be shocked to see Tapit Trice overcome all obstacles with a strong performance.
#17 Derma Sotogake, #11 Disarm, #7 Reincarnate, #18 Rocket Can, and #9 Skinner are runners I’ll incorporate into lower rungs of vertical exotic wagers like the trifecta and superfecta.
Kentucky Derby Top 4
1. Angel of Empire
3. Tapit Trice