amNY at the Track | Looking at the Kentucky Derby chances for the top five point-getters

Forte winning Fountain of Youth Stakes
Forte, shown winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, will be a heavy favorite in Saturday’s Florida Derby — but will break from the far outside in a field of 12.
Courtesy of Adam Coglianese

The dust is setting on the Kentucky Derby trail, with the major prep races in the rear view mirror and three anxious weeks of waiting ahead leading up to the big race at Churchill Downs.

The top half of the field, barring any unforeseen circumstances, is fairly set, and the top five point-getters in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series will likely enter the starting gate on the first Saturday in May as the betting public’s top choices.

Let’s take a look at the top five and assess their chances of winning the “Run for the Roses” and claiming racing immortality.

Forte (190 points)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Biggest Wins: Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Our odds: 3-1

Champions find ways to win, and that’s what Forte did in the Florida Derby last time out. He overcame an outside post at Gulfstream Park, a wide trip, all kinds of traffic trouble and won in the last 100 yards anyway. 

Experts say his Florida Derby win wasn’t as flashy or fast as his Fountain of Youth victory; his Beyer speed figure did drop from 99 to 95. That being said, we didn’t see Forte run his best race in the Florida Derby, and he still found a way to win. And all the experience he gained in that race sets him up perfectly for the Kentucky Derby — a race that’s notorious for traffic problems because of its large field. 

Did we mention he’s got the best trainer in the country and best jockey in the saddle? Pletcher has won the Derby twice before, but Irad Ortiz Jr. is too talented not to make the winner’s circle at some point in his career. This seems like the perfect time to do it.

The only reason not to include him in your win wagers is if his odds are too low for your liking.

Practical Move (160 points)

Trainer: Tim Yakteen

Jockey: Ramon Hernandez

Biggest Wins: Santa Anita Derby, San Felipe Stakes

Our odds: 8-1

If you like horses that are fast and have guts, Practical Move is for you. Watching him squeak out a victory over Mandarin Hero in the Santa Anita Derby was the kind of finish that reminds you of how fun the sport can be. He also boasts two 100 Beyer speed figures in back-to-back prep races this season, something no other horse in the field has done. 

That’s the good news. Here’s the not so good: Practical Move doesn’t look like a horse who wants the full 1 ¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby. His sire, Practical Joke, was a great one-turn mile horse and sprinter, so Practical Take’s ability to get the classic distance remains a huge question mark.

As for his connections, Yakteen is a former Bob Baffert protege who inherited a lot of the still-banned-from-Churchill Downs trainer’s Kentucky Derby hopefuls this year — yet he’s had Practical Move in his barn the entire time. Yakteen won’t be walking in any shadows if Practical Move prevails.

We’ve seen horses punch above their pedigree before, and if any Kentucky Derby contender looks able to do it, it’s Practical Move. 

Angel of Empire (154 points)

Trainer: Brad Cox

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Biggest Wins: Arkansas Derby, Risen Star Stakes

Our odds: 5-1

All Angel of Empire has done in his career is improve, and his last two performances show that he’s a force to be reckoned with. He backed up his upset win in the Risen Star Stakes with a dominant performance in the Arkansas Derby against a solid field. 

Under a patient ride by Prat, Angel of Empire began to accelerate three furlongs from the wire, passing horses with ease and taking command a furlong out. His running style seems to be a perfect fit for the Kentucky Derby. This horse keeps getting better with every start, and it seems unlikely he will regress anytime soon.

Angel of Empire is easily Cox’s best Kentucky Derby horse since Essential Quality two years ago, and he stands a good chance of hitting the winner’s circle. Prat won the 2019 Kentucky Derby via disqualification with Country House, and this looks like his best chance to win as well. 

Next to Forte, Angel of Empire appears to be the second-choice, but he’s got company…

Tapit Trice (150 points)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Luis Saez

Biggest Wins: Blue Grass Stakes, Tampa Bay Derby

Our odds: 5-1

After a trouble-filled victory in a slow running of the Tampa Bay Derby, Tapit Trice looked like a horse with something to prove in the Blue Grass Stakes, and he found a way to do it. Under Saez, he made a wide move down the Keeneland back stretch and around the far turn, but sustained his rally down the stretch in finally edging pass Verifying in the last 110 yards. 

There’s a lot to like about Tapit Trice. His solid pedigree is full of distance, so he’ll get the Kentucky Derby distance without a problem. He stepped up his speed game in the Blue Grass, so he can hang with the likes of Forte. 

Tapit Trice is certainly a threat to win. Saez is also looking for redemption, having been disqualified as Derby champion in 2019 aboard Maximum Security. He’s one of the best, but also aggressive, riders in the country, and he’ll likely find the best in Tapit Trice. The only question is whether that will be enough for him to prevail.

Two Phil’s (123 points)

Trainer: Larry Rivetti

Jockey: Jareth Loveberry

Biggest Win: Jeff Ruby Steaks (sic)

Our odds: 10-1

Two Phil’s, who finished a desultory third in a plodding Risen Star Stakes, looked like a completely different horse in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, showing off great speed on the synthetic Turfway Park oval in a dominant win. With that effort, he also turned in one of the fastest performances of any three-year-old on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Consistency seems to be a problem for Two Phil’s. As a two-year-old, he seemed like a rising star in the summer, but then turned in a dud in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He came back to win the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs in October, then did not impress in his first two starts as a three-year-old at the New Orleans Fair Grounds.

He’ll be up against a far-tougher field in the Kentucky Derby, but if he runs better on the switch back from synthetic to dirt (as Animal Kingdom did in 2011), Two Phil’s could indeed be a threat to win at a nice price.

Post Parade Notes

  • One prep race remains on the Road to the Kentucky Derby this year in Saturday’s Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, but just one horse in the field has a shot of making the Kentucky Derby. Disarm, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished second in the Louisiana Derby, but with just 40 points, he’s currently not qualified to make the Kentucky Derby starting gate, with four other horses ahead of him on the points list. A win in the Lexington Stakes is worth 20 points, and would vault Disarm into the Kentucky Derby field, tying him with Raise Cain with the ninth-most points at 64. Even if he finishes second or third, that will be enough to get Disarm to Louisville. But if Disarm wins the Lexington Stakes, he should get serious consideration in the Kentucky Derby. 
  • Confidence Game, who won the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park back in February, was initially pointed to the Lexington Stakes as his final prep for the Kentucky Derby. However, trainer Keith Desormeaux said the horse would continue training up to the big race on May 6, meaning that Confidence Game will be entering the Derby off a nine-week layoff. Recent Kentucky Derby winners have done it coming off five- or six-week layoffs, but this might be a step too far for Confidence Game. At least he’s not Exterminator, the 1918 Kentucky Derby winner, who upset the field coming off a record 9 ½ month break.