Kentucky Derby: ‘Confidence’ in the Favorite

May 4, 2023; Louisville, KY, USA; Steam rises as a horse gets washed outside a barn at the Churchill Downs’ backside Thursday morning May 4, 2023, in Louisville, Ky. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stone-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Derby: ‘Confidence’ in the Favorite

Mattress Mack has an awesome promo where if the Kentucky Derby favorite wins you get your furniture free. Check out the flyer below, then let’s take a look at this Kentucky Derby preview!

The works have been analyzed to pieces, the ink off the past performances is smudged, and the prep race replays have been seen ad nauseum. It’s time to make some picks for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1). It’s an exhausting, yet thrilling exercise.

Nineteen horses will go postward just before 7 p.m. EDT under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. Us locals will wipe a tear from our eye after the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home” and hope we have enough money to make it home after playing a full day of races.

This year’s running may be dubbed the “Defection Derby,” has four horses have scratched since entries were taken Monday morning. First, it was Practical Move, the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner, bowing out with an elevated temperature Thursday morning. Then, after a pair of Saffie Joseph Jr.’s horses died earlier in the young meet, all of his horses, including Derby starter Lord Miles, were scratched by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Churchill Downs has banned Joseph indefinitely. Later that day, one of the Japan-based horses, Continuar, was scratched due to his not appearing able to handle the rigors of the Derby by his trainer.

Those three scratches allowed all three of the also-eligibles to draw into the field. But the defections weren’t done. Oaks Day dawned with the scratch of Skinner, also for spiking a temperature. Both Skinner and Practical Move arrived at the Downs earlier this week from Southern California.

As legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham said, “horses are like strawberries … they can turn overnight.”

Last year only one horse drew in off the also-eligible list, producing an 80-1 upset with Rich Strike. We’ve been told lightning doesn’t strike twice.

The favorite, since the beginning of the year, has been Forte. The champion 2-year-old male, proved best of the South Florida contingent with victories in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). To our eye, the Fountain of Youth was the strongest and most impressive of the Derby preps this year. For that reason, we’ll be using both runner-up Rocket Can, and third-place finisher, Mage, in our exactas below.

Forte is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has two other Derby runners in Tapit Trice, who has garnered the most attention for his good looks Derby week, and the front-running Kingsbarns. 

On looks, Forte rules the roost. The bay colt is sizable and has a wide body. He walks the shedrow and makes his way to and from the track as if he owns the place. Perhaps he might by nightfall in Louisville. However, as is usual with Derby favorites, rumors swirled on Twitter Thursday night and Friday morning that he would be scratched as well. We’re not holding our breath.

No one has sent out more horses in the Kentucky Derby than Pletcher, a protégé of legendary D. Wayne Lukas. Pletcher has won the Roses twice, with Super Saver in 2010 and with Always Dreaming in 2017. Vincent Viola (St. Elias Stable) was along for the ride with Always Dreaming, and he’s the co-owner of Forte along with Vitamin Water magnate Mike Repole.

Repole was on the backside of Churchill Downs Wednesday to take in the scene.

“This is the one race with 20 horses. The winner will have to run a great race and make sure nobody stops in front of him. In a way, I’m afraid of the other 19,” he said. “The one that can get you beat is not necessarily the one who wins. We have an Eclipse Award-winning jockey and a post that will keep us out of trouble. If (jockey) Irad (Ortiz Jr.) can keep us clear and give us a chance at the top of the stretch, we’ll see what he can do.”

We think he’ll get that trip and find his way to the winner’s circle. 

With all the scratches and jostling of post positions, it that appears this year’s Derby is wide open. While Forte is the leader, he doesn’t lead by a wide margin. He’s listed at 3-1 on the morning line. Expect a slightly better price at post time.

But there are plenty of others in the field that merit respect. An odd-ball but—old-school—choice would be Confidence Game, who comes into the race off a 10-week gap between starts. Trainer Keith Desormeaux accepts the fact that hasn’t been done in more than 100 years.

Based on how the horse has looked at Churchill Downs and the blazing five-furlong work he put in a week before the race, he deserves some attention.

The colt, winner of the Rebel Stakes (G2) way back when, is a son of Candy Ride, a top sire, and is out of a full sister to Zenyatta. Desormeaux was able to land him as a sale yearling for $25,000.

A veteran horseman and brother to Derby-winning trainer Kent Desormeaux, Keith works the sales like everybody else, but takes a different bent.

“I’m looking for what everybody else is looking for, a Derby horse,” he said. “But I’ve learned to deal with things other guys perceive as problems. If he looks like a classy, physically gifted horse, top-end horse … I’ve been looking at horses’ bodies and joints for years. If he looks sound, I don’t care what the vets say, and that’s how I bought Confidence Game. They said he had issues on his (vet) report … but I don’t even know, I never asked. I didn’t look at it. I just went by eye. All those days of clocking horses in the paddock, claiming horses, and getting on them in the mornings … man, if I haven’t figured something out by now, then I never will.”

The pace scenario for the Derby figures to be dictated by Verifying (post 2), Kingsbarns (post 6), Jace’s Road (post 12), and perhaps Cyclone Mischief (no. 21, who drew into the race). One can never predict the early fractions of a Derby once they break from the gate and the adrenaline kicks up, but with up to four horses vying for the early lead, it might be a bit hotter than we expect. That would bode well for Forte, and his stablemate Tapit Trice, and Confidence Game, among others. 

Forte has proved he can finish off his rivals in the stretch. If he has position and continues his good form of clicking off :12 eighths of a mile, he’s one tough hombre. We’re hopeful of that, and the brilliance of Confidence Game to have enough in the tank inside the eighth pole. Tapit Trice has looked as good as any horse on the backstretch this week. With a clear shot, he could prove deadly as well.


Let’s play with $150

$40 to win on Forte (No. 15)

$15 win and place on Confidence Game (No. 4) – $30

$2 exacta box of Confidence Game (No. 4), Tapit Trice (No. 5), and Forte (No. 15) – $12

$2 exacta part wheel of Confidence Game, Tapit Trice, and Forte OVER playable horses Mage (No. 8), Disarm (No. 11), Angel of Empire (No. 14), and Rocket Can (No. 18) – $24

50 cent trifecta part-wheel of Confidence Game, Tapit Trice, and Forte OVER Confidence Game, Mage (No. 8), Disarm (No. 11), Angel of Empire (No. 14), and Rocket Can (No. 18) – $45

Related Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *