1 of 7 | Kentucky Derby hopeful Forte gallops on the track Friday during morning workouts in preparation for Saturday's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
It's been a smooth ride to the Kentucky Derby for Forte and fortune continued to smile on the 2-year-old champion Monday as he drew the No. 15 gate for Saturday's Run for the Roses and was installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite.
The draw worked out well enough, too, for Forte's trainer, Todd Pletcher. He also handles Tapit Trice, who will start from gate No. 5 as the second choice on the morning line at 5-1, and 12-1 chance Kingsbarns, undefeated after three starts and assigned the No. 6 stall.
"We're happy with the draw," Pletcher said, indicating Forte and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. will have a chance to take their customary stalking position while avoiding the inside traffic while his other two will need to be on their toes with the gates open.
"The key for both of them is that first step, to get away cleanly," said Pletcher, seeking his third Kentucky Derby win. "Tapit Trice isn't super quick but hopefully he can get into the first turn, save some ground, get into a good position. Kingsbarn probably will be somewhat more forwardly placed."
Trainer Brad Cox has four in the 20-horse field and defied the odds by getting the No. and No. 2 gates for two of them, Hit Show and Verifying. He argued recent changes in the Churchill Downs starting gate make the inside slots less disadvantageous than was the case earlier.
"I think it's okay," Cox said. "We've got the new starting gate now. I don't think it eliminates the inside horses like it used to. I'm going to take a positive spin on it. Hopefully [Hit Show] and Verifying can get a good trip from down on the inside."
Cox might have a better chance with Arkansas Derby winner Angel of Empire, drawn No. 14 and made the third-favorite by oddsmaker Mike Battaglia at 8-1. His fourth runner, Jace's Road, has the look of a long shot.
Other than Cox's inside draw, the two Japanese-trained horses in the race seemed to get the worst of the proceedings at Churchill Downs' Aristides Room, named for the first Kentucky Derby winner.
Derma Sotogake, winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai, drew the No. 17 gate and Continuar, who earned his way to Louisville by winning the "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby," was stuck in the far outside stall.
For Forte, Pletcher, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. and owner Mike Repole, however, good fortune continued to flow.
The Derby favorite, a son of Violence, won his first start last May 27 at Belmont Park, then finished fourth in the Grade III Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. He hasn't lost since, winning the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga, the Grade I Breeders' Futurity and the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile to earn the Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old male of 2022.
After the winter break, he returned to win the Grade II Fountain of Youth and the Grade I Florida Derby and his training has gone flawlessly.
Pletcher and owner Mike Repole even got a quick break from the tension at the post-position draw as Forte's name was the first out of the box to be assigned a gate. And if the sun has been shining on Forte through his career, so is it forecast to beam down on Louisville on Derby Day.
The field for the 149th Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs, 1 1/4 miles on the dirt, with trainer, jockey and morning-line odds:
1. Hit Show, Brad Cox, Manny Franco, 30-1
2. Verifying, Cox, Tyler Gaffalione, 15-1
3. Two Phil's, Larry Rivelli, Jareth Loveberry, 12-1
4. Confidence Game, Keith Desoreaux, James Graham, 20-1
5. Tapit Trice, Todd Pletcher, Luis Saez, 5-1
6. Kingsbarns, Pletcher, Jose Ortiz, 12-1
7. Reincarnate, Tim Yakteen, John Velazquez, 50-1
8. Mage, Gustavo Delgado, Javier Castellano, 15-1
9. Skinner, John Sherriffs, Juan Hernandez, 20-1
10. Practical Move, Yakteen, Ramon Vasquez, 10-1
11. Disarm, Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario, 30-1
12. Jace's Road, Cox, Florent Geroux, 15-1
13. Sun Thunder, Kenny McPeek, Brian Hernandez, 50-1
14. Angel of Empire, Cox, Flavien Prat, 8-1
15. Forte, Pletcher, Irad Ortiz, 3-1
16. Raise Cain, Ben Colebrook, Gerardo Corales, 50-1
17. Derma Sotogake, Hidetaka Otonashi, Christophe Lemaire, 10-1
18. Rocket Can, Bill Mott, Junior Alvarado, 30-1
19. Lord Miles, Saffie Joseph Jr., Paco Lopez, 30-1
20. Continuar, Yoshito Yahagi, Ryusei Sakai, 50-1
Morning workouts take place at Churchill Downs ahead of Saturday's Kentucky Derby on in Louisville, Ky., on May 4, 2023. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo