The rumors had been swirling about Forte for a couple of days. He was observed taking an awkward stumble during training, and he wounds up on the vet's list. That, in and of itself, didn't necessarily say anything. And trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that the Kentucky Derby favorite, coming off a win in the Florida Derby, would be just fine.
But as horse racing observers at BetOnline know by now, that was not the case. Forte, winner of four Grade 1 events, including last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile, was scratched by the racing commission, over the objections of co-owner Mike Repole and Pletcher, with a bruise on his left front foot.
And so now things become a little more wide-open.
Angel of Empire, the winner of the Arkansas Derby, is the new favorite, with the very capable Tapit Trice, also trained by Pletcher, right behind him.
Pletcher also has Kingbarns, the Louisiana Derby winner, entered, and he is carrying odds of +1100.
In all, there have been five scratches in this race, bringing in a few also-eligibles. Trainer Saffie Joseph has been a center of attention; two of his horses died this week and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission suspended him. That took one of his horses, Lord Miles, out of the Derby.
Here's the field as it is currently posted at the BetOnline sportsbook:
Kentucky Derby 2023
14 Angel of Empire +400
5 Tapit Trice +500
17 Derma Sotogake +600
3 Two Phil's +1000
6 Kingsbarns +1100
8 Mage +1400
2 Verifying +1400
22 Mandarin Hero +1500
4 Confidence Game +1800
7 Reincarnate +2000
1 Hit Show +2800
11 Disarm +3300
21 Cyclone Mischief +4000
23 King Russell +4000
16 Raise Cain +4000
13 Sun Thunder +4000
12 Jace's Road +5000
18 Rocket Can +5000
Angel of Empire (+400), trained by Brad Cox, who also has multiple entries, also won the Risen Star, and posted his two best speed figures, by far, in his last two races, both at a mile and an eighth. The only time he's run out of the money was in a turf race as a two-year-old.
Kingsbarns only had two starts when he cruised to a wire-to-wire victory in the Louisiana Derby. While Tapit Trice's pop is Tapit, who won North American sire of the year three times, Kingsbarns has Tapit in his bloodline as well, as the dam is Lady Tapit.
While Kingsbarns has largely had smooth sailing, Tapit Trice has battled from behind with a big closing kick. He came from eighth place in the stretch to capture the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby, and then, he won a duel with Verifying (also entered here, and +1400) in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, where he registered a Beyer Speed Figure of 99.
Curiosity surrounds horses that aren't trained by Pletcher or Cox. One of them is Derma Sotogake, shipping in from Japan after a very impressive win in the $1 million UAE Derby, in which he took command right out of the starting gate and never surrendered it. Two things must be noted - one is that this horse has traveled a LONG way. And another is that no horse who has won the UAE Derby has ever hit the board in the Kentucky Derby.
Another horse that comes from Japan is Mandarin Hero (+1500), who won all four of his races as a two-year-old. He's raced at a mile and an eighth in his last two outings. One of those was the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, where he was nosed out by Practical Move (a Derby scratch). Maybe he's a factor here.
There are a lot of horses who have a chance to make some noise. Two Phil's (+1000) won the Jeff Ruby Steaks (no typo there) at Turfway with the highest speed rating anyone in this field has registered. But he was beaten soundly by Angel of Empire in the Risen Star. Verifying might provide some value at +1400. Another entrant who is trained by Cox, he had a 99 Beyer Speed Rating in the Blue Grass, where he lost by a neck to Tapit Trice. The son of Triple Crown winner Justify, he's had three Grade 1 starts.
At the end of the day, I like the consistency of Tapit Trice, who may not be far off the pace when it comes time to really turn on the jets (since there isn't a lot of speed in the field). When you move up in distance and run faster, that's not a bad sign. And as we just mention, this is the best closer in the field. As long as he doesn't have a lot of competition to sort himself through, this could give Pletcher the Kentucky Derby win many forecast for him during the period we were mulling futures - except with a different horse.
Bet the Kentucky Derby and all other racing events at the BetOnline racebook, and also check out the special props they have in the sportsbook!....... AND enter their "First and Last" contest to contend for some big bucks......Remember that you can come on board by using your credit card or any of the MANY cryptocurrency options they give you...... Don't get left at the starting gate!