Byron King’s Derby Dozen for March 8

BloodHorse news editor Byron King presents his latest Derby Dozen Presented by Spendthrift, with a look at his leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 6.

Last week, four qualifying points preps were held: the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park; the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct; the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park; and the John Battaglia Stakes at Turfway Park. This Saturday, Derby watchers focus on Tampa Bay Downs, where the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby will be held.

Check out America’s Best Racing’s Triple Crown page to keep up to date with stories and statistics on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

1. Forte

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher expressed satisfaction with Forte’s training leading up to the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and the champion colt delivered. Well positioned in fifth under Irad Ortiz Jr., two lengths off the pace, he inhaled the leaders in early stretch and drew clear for a 4 ½-length victory over Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes winner and fellow Derby Dozen member Rocket Can. Forte’s 106 Equibase Speed Figure was marginally ahead of his numbers from last year and should leave him ready for continued development.

2. Arabian Knight

The Grade 3 Southwest Stakes winner, transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to Tim Yakteen late last month to become eligible for qualifying Kentucky Derby points and potential participation in the May 6 race, returned to the worktab March 4 with a five-furlong breeze in :59.20 at Santa Anita Park. That was his first breeze since Feb. 13 after not working the following week and then with training in Southern California interrupted by rainy weather. This 2-for-2 colt is scheduled to race just once before the Kentucky Derby, most likely in the April 1 Arkansas Derby or the April 8 Santa Anita Derby.

3. Instant Coffee

Dual grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro was a cut below Justify and Good Magic when they raced as 3-year-olds in 2018. As a stallion, he leads the group, all off to promising starts at stud. Bolt d’Oro was the top first-crop sire of 2022, and he currently tops the second-crop sire list of 2023 due to the success of Instant Coffee and other sophomores. This late-running colt won the Grade Lecomte Stakes earlier this year at Fair Grounds, following his Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes victory last year, and seems on schedule for the $1 million Louisiana Derby March 25.

4. Tapit Trice

Pletcher has won the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby a record five times, and Tapit Trice should be favored to give him a sixth. After a debut third, the colt has won two in a row, with his latest catching the eye. Racing in a first-level allowance optional claimer Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park, he left his foes behind in scoring by eight lengths. He ran a mile in 1:36.44, earning an Equibase Speed Figure of 96. By Tapit out of the stakes-winning dirt router Danzatrice, Tapit Trice is bred for two turns.

5. Reincarnate

With stablemate National Treasure missing the San Felipe with a tender foot, Reincarnate is now the top-ranked Derby hopeful of the 3-year-olds owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan. Reincarnate performed well to be third in the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes in the slop at Oaklawn Park after falling further off the pace than usual and then getting shut off in midstretch. The Sham Stakes winner gained valuable experience that may advance his development.

6. Practical Move

His time in winning the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes was 1:42.01, the race’s quickest clocking since Dortmund won it in 1:41.65 in 2015. The son of Practical Joke ran faster in the San Felipe than Grade 1 winners such as Bolt d’Oro (1:42.71, 2018), Authentic (1:43.56, 2020), and Life Is Good (1:42.18, 2021). Practical Move, who received a 108 Equibase Figure, has won two consecutive graded routes in stalking fashion with favorable ground-saving stretch openings.

7. Geaux Rocket Ride

Regression frequently occurs from class-rising horses coming off fast debut wins, but this talented colt ran even quicker in defeat in the San Felipe than he did in victory first out, going from a 101 to a 104 Equibase Speed Figure. He pressed the early pace of Hejazi in the San Felipe and stayed on, defeating all but a slipping-up-the-fence Practical Move. Geaux Rocket Ride should benefit from the class and distance experience for Hall of Famer trainer Richard Mandella.

8. Verifying

Like Reincarnate, he did not have a smooth journey in the Rebel. Shuffled back in traffic on the second turn after eating slop behind horses, he had a right to throw in the towel but ran on decently to be fourth. Verifying should run better in his next start if he can land a trip in the clear. With 14 qualifying Kentucky Derby points, he can likely secure entrance into the Derby by running third or better in his final Derby prep.

9. Confidence Game

Few trainers have a better eye for sales value than Keith Desormeaux, who plucked this colt out of the Lane’s End consignment at the 2021 September Yearling Sale at Keeneland for $25,000. Now Confidence Game is a graded stakes winner with a bankroll of $785,525, having earned most of that in winning the $1 million Rebel. He appeared to relish the slop in the Rebel, and others in the field had poor racing luck, but that was not Confidence Game’s only top race. He edged Rocket Can on a fast track at Churchill Downs in November.

10. Rocket Can

He ran much faster with his Fountain of Youth placing by running a 99 Equibase Speed Figure than by posting an 89 in winning the Holy Bull. He also showed tenacity, fighting to pass front-running Cyclone Mischief after Forte had surged to the lead. Rocket Can has been first or second in his four races around two turns, all at 1 1/16 miles, one of which was a runner-up finish to Confidence Game beneath the twin spires in the fall.

11. National Treasure

A bruised foot resulted in his scratch from the San Felipe this past Saturday. Provided no additional issue pops up, that is something that a horse can bounce back from quickly, though it impacts his preparation and seasoning. It likely leaves him with only one opportunity to earn sufficient points to qualify for the Derby. His talent is undeniable, with one win and three graded placings, including two in Grade 1s.

12. Angel of Empire

Breezing for the first time since taking the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford, he went a half-mile on Saturday in :48.60 at Fair Grounds. He seemingly remains on an upward trajectory. Though his winning time in the Risen Star was slow –1 1/8 miles in 1:51.47 – it still garnered a 96 Equibase Figure. He has steadily improved his figures over his five-race career (58-66-80-92-96). Not as battle tested as others in the Derby Dozen from a company-kept point-of-view.

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