2023 Florida Derby Recap

Forte likely assured himself of Kentucky Derby favoritism with a brave victory in the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park April 1.

Seeking his fifth consecutive victory, and fourth Grade 1 triumph, Forte was a prohibitive 3-10 choice to win the Florida Derby, despite drawing what is usually a horrific gate 11 at Gulfstream’s 1 18-mile start.

The son of Violence was taken back by Irad Ortiz Jr. and was in a three-wide path for much of the race, but he looked in trouble when second-favorite Mage — who once again started slowly — sprinted around him on the final turn.

But just when Mage looked set for victory, Forte showed admirable stamina and guts to reel him in, eventually passing the finishing post a length to the good.

Forte took 100 points on the Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby table for the victory, pushing him to 190 points and a clear lead in the series.

Mage, fourth to Forte in the Fountain of Youth (G2) in April, earned 40 points and took his tally to 50, which assures him a Kentucky Derby start. Also looking likely to have a Derby spot secure is third-place finisher Cyclone Mischief, whose 30 points earned here took him to 45 points overall.

Mr. Ripple (fourth) and Fort Bragg (fifth) earned 20 points and 10 points, respectively. It was the first points earned for either horse and neither are likely to have enough points for a Derby start barring widespread defections.

By Alastair Bull

What is the Florida Derby?

By J. Keeler Johnson

Two dozen Kentucky Derby winners. That’s right—between 1953 and 2017, a span of 65 years, the Florida Derby (G1) produced the Kentucky Derby winner on 24 occasions, a record of success unequaled by any other Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race.

When writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr noted “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” he could very well have been writing about the Florida Derby. The race has barely changed at all since its inaugural running in 1952. It’s always been held over 1 18 miles at Gulfstream Park, and it’s always been a key steppingstone toward the Run for the Roses, producing multiple Kentucky Derby winners every decade.

Ironically, the first Florida Derby participant to achieve fame under the Twin Spires went thoroughly unheralded at Gulfstream Park. After finishing 13th in the 1953 Florida Derby, Dark Star pulled off an unforgettable upset in the Kentucky Derby, stemming off a late charge from superstar Native Dancer to win by a head.

In the decades to follow, Iron Liege (1956), Tim Tam (1958), Venetian Way (1960), Kauai King (1966), Cannonade (1974), Foolish Pleasure (1975), Strike the Gold (1991), and Go for Gin (1994) all followed Dark Star’s lead by turning defeat in the Florida Derby into victory at Churchill Downs.

But winning both races has been an even more common feat, with the Florida Derby/Kentucky Derby frequently serving as a springboard to champion 3-year-old honors. The Florida-bred standout Needles was the first to complete the double 1956, followed by Tim Tam (1958), Carry Back (1961), Northern Dancer (1964), Forward Pass (1968), Spectacular Bid (1979), Swale (1984), Unbridled (1990), Thunder Gulch (1995), Monarchos (2001), Barbaro (2006), Big Brown (2008).

The 2010s saw continued success for the Florida Derby as Orb (2013), Nyquist (2016), and Always Dreaming (2017) parlayed triumphs in Gulfstream’s signature race into victories under the Twin Spires. Maximum Security (2019) also crossed the wire first in both races, but was sdisqualified from Kentucky Derby glory after causing interference on the far turn.

Since the 1950s, no Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race has come close to producing as many Kentucky Derby winners as the Florida Derby. It’s easy to see why the race ranks as a top-tier prep awarding points on a 100-40-20-10 split to the top four finishers.

Florida Derby Previews:

Rogers and Kerstein: Inside the Kentucky Derby Podcast: Florida and Arkansas Derby Preview

Johnson: Study Guide: Florida Derby

Reilly: Forte draws post 11 in Florida Derby