Back in the late ‘80s and throughout the 1990s, the betting favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1) roosted on a perilous perch. For the most part in sports, however, over time, things equal out. The betting favorite failed to win after Spectacular Bid (1979) until Fusaichi Pegasus won the Roses in 2000. Then from 2013-2018, the favorite won six consecutive times, twice by Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
In Thoroughbred racing, the favorite wins about a third of the time. The odds favor the favorite slightly more in stakes races. Barring the unthinkable, Forte will be the favorite on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Last year’s champion two-year-old male has done nothing wrong at three so far, proving to be the best of the crop based in South Florida. He has a two-time Derby-winning trainer in Todd Pletcher and his rider, Irad Ortiz Jr., won the Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey in four of the last five years. That’s a lot of arrows pointing in his direction.
Forte was bred in Kentucky by Amy Moore’s South Gate Farm and is a son of Violence out of a mare by Blame. Violence only made four starts but showed brilliance by winning the two-turn CashCall Futurity (G1) late in his 2-year-old year in Southern California. His sire, Medgalia d’Oro, has proved to be one of the top sires of the last 20 years after running second in the 2002 Belmont Stakes (G1), second in the Dubai World Cup (G1), and second—twice—in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Blame, also a top sire with tons of stamina throughout his pedigree, famously held off Zenyatta in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. So, Forte certainly has what it takes from a pedigree perspective.
Forte was sold as a weanling in late 2021 for $80,000 and was prepped to be re-sold as a yearling. He was sold at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $110,000 by Reiley McDonald’s Eaton Sales to Jacob West Bloodstock.
“We sold him for a very modest profit, probably broke even, and always when I walked into that colt field, he was the first to trot up,” McDonald told BloodHorse. “He was the guy with the personality and was stunning. He’s definitely a special animal. He’s probably as pretty a racehorse as any would ever see.”
West purchased the colt for clients Mike Repole and St. Elias Stable. Repole has been a powerhouse as an owner since his company Glaceau (maker of Vitamin Water), was sold to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion. St. Elias Stable is the nom du course of Vincent Viola, the former chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange. Both owners play the game at the highest level.
“As a yearling he was just what he is today, just a little bit of a smaller version in the sense that he’s just a big, beautiful horse that is very light on his feet and incredibly athletic,” West said earlier in the week. “That’s really what we saw there (at the sale), conformational-wise, and to be in the Repole/St. Elias group there are a couple of hoops they have to jump through, after pedigree analysis and things like that. He just happened to be a very attractive horse that happened to check all of the boxes on that side. And when you can buy an athlete for $110,000, you better do that.”
West, whose star has risen steadily since he left working for Three Chimneys Farm a few years ago, has been associated with Repole for about 10 years. Repole Stable and St. Elias went on a buying spree in 2021, buying 45 yearlings for $16,555,000. Forte, the best of the lot, was the least expensive of the group.
Forte went from the yearling sale to Ocala Stud in central Florida for breaking and training. He was among the tops of his class.
“When he was at Ocala Stud, they spoke highly of the horse early on,” West said. “Of course, no one knew he’d be the 2-year-old champion, but the horse earned high marks. He shipped to Todd (Pletcher) early (in 2022) at Palm Beach Downs. He really liked him and had him shipped to Belmont Park early where he broke his maiden and he went straight to Saratoga. We’ve always gotten positive remarks on the horse.”
Forte did hit the ground running, winning in his debut in late May in New York going five furlongs (five-eighth of a mile). In upstate New York at Saratoga, he ran fourth in the July 16 Sandford Stakes at six furlongs and hasn’t lost since. He stretched to seven furlongs to win the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga then went to Kentucky, where he won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
This winter, he dusted his rivals in his three-year-old bow March 4 in Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (G1) and roared from fifth to first in the stretch to take the Florida Derby (G1) by a length over a colt named Mage.
“I think if you go back and watch a replay of the Florida Derby, watching the last quarter mile, how he finished and how he galloped out past the wire … then a mile and a quarter (Kentucky Derby) distance would be in his wheelhouse.”
West, while out scouring the two-year-old sales looking the next Forte, remains in good contact with Pletcher.
“Todd is excited with how he’s going so far; the horse is happy,” West reported. “He’s got a pretty good shot of winning the Kentucky Derby.”
Most people agree. That’s why he’ll be the favorite next Saturday afternoon under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.