Mandatory Credit: Photo by Gonzalo Anteliz Jr/CSM/Shutterstock (13854602p) , 2023, Hallandale Beach, FL, USA: Forte (11) ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., wins the Florida Derby on Florida Derby Day at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida on Gonzalo Anteliz, Jr./Eclipse Sportswire/CSM Horse Racing Florida Derby Day, Hallandale Beach, USA – 01 Apr 2023
Forte storms home in the Florida Derby, emerges as clear Kentucky Derby favorite
Forte, last year’s two-year-old champion thoroughbred racehorse, entered the Florida Derby as the prohibitive favorite. In his season-opening win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Forte showed that he had come through the layoff following his two-year-old campaign and was still a force to be reckoned with.
He had drawn the eleventh starting position in a twelve-horse field, but most experts and the bettors believed he could be among the few horses in history to overcome this tough post draw.
However, as the horses turned for home, it appeared as though the favorite was beaten. He had been forced at least six wide on the far turn, and it seemed that Forte would not have enough kick to match the move made by Mage to take a two-length lead in mid-stretch.
Just when all appeared lost, Forte kicked it into gear and responded to the urging of Irad Ortiz with a final electrifying burst of speed and determination that pushed him a length ahead at the wire. He turned what looked like a disappointing loss into a thrilling victory.
All of the drama of the stretch drive was set up when Forte broke from his outside post and was settled three wide and in the back of the pack at the first turn. Fort Bragg led the way through the backstretch as the favorite slowly made his way from the rear. On the far turn, it appeared as though Mage and Cyclone Mischief had beaten Forte to the punch, swinging wide and taking command as they turned for home.
After a brief battle, Mage took a two-length lead that appeared secure until Forte unlocked his magic and stormed to the front.
While this win may not look as impressive as some of his others on paper, the quality of today’s victory shows that Forte has grit, determination, and a special ability to overcome the kind of adversity that could very well be present in the twenty horse field on the first Saturday in May. Also, his late stretch move shows that the mile-and-a-quarter Derby distance should be well within his abilities.
Horseplayers and fans are always on the lookout for the next wonder horse, and they just may have found him in Forte.