Wide Draw and All, Forte an Overwhelming Presence in Florida Derby

Big Brown (Boundary) took no prisoners from post 12 with a powerful, wire-to-wire performance in the GI Curlin Florida Derby before capturing the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2008.

It’s champion Forte (Violence)’s turn now.

Last term’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, an eye-catching winner while kicking off his sophomore campaign in the GII Fountain of Youth S. Mar. 4, towers over his 11 rivals on paper in Saturday’s Florida Derby. But with a well-documented short run to the first turn going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park, Forte must overcome a disadvantageous wide draw in post 11. He is the 4-5 morning-line favorite.

Regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. remains as confident as ever no matter the post.

“He does everything I ask him,” Ortiz said of the Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable colorbearer. “He’s always there for me. He can stay all day on his stride. He has a turn of foot but he stays. He stays with that speed–that’s good on dirt. I know what he wants to do and how he likes to run. I have a lot of confidence in him.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher added, “The Fountain of Youth couldn’t have gone any better for us. As impressively as he’s won a couple of these races, he’s kind of come to the wire with his ears up taking everything in. Obviously, as these races get a little more difficult, he’ll need to stay focused.”

The Florida Derby field also includes: last term’s GII Remsen S. winner and disappointing GIII Sam F. Davis S. eighth-place finisher Dubyuhnell (Good Magic); last out GII San Felipe S. fifth-place finisher Fort Bragg (Tapit); and Fountain of Youth third Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief).

Gulfstream’s absolutely stacked 14-race program features 10 stakes races, including the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks; GII Pan American S.; GIII Orchid S.; and GIII Ghostzapper S.

Wide-Open Arkansas Derby…

While the 11-deep GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn may lack a standout or star power like its Gulfstream counterpart, it should nonetheless present some fantastic wagering opportunities.

Red Route One (Gun Runner) and Reincarnate (Good Magic), a rallying second and third in a sloppy renewal of the local prep in the GII Rebel S. Feb. 25, could vie for favoritism. The former adds blinkers for Steve Asmussen. Reincarnate, a game winner of the GIII Sham S. Jan. 8 for previous trainer Bob Baffert, looks like the one to beat after an eventful trip in his first try for Tim Yakteen in the Rebel. He is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.

“We didn’t have the best of luck last time,” Yakteen said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a clean break away from there and Johnny [Velazquez] will play the break and put himself where he feels the horse is going to be most comfortable. Obviously, we’d like to be closer to the pace than necessarily be completely out of it like we were the last time.”

Angel of Empire (Classic Empire) will be out for respect after upsetting the GII Risen Star S. at 13-1 for Brad Cox while GIII Holy Bull S. winner Rocket Can (Into Mischief) won’t have to worry about facing Forte again just yet after finishing a solid second behind the current GI Kentucky Derby favorite in the Fountain of Youth.

The Arkansas Derby program also includes GI Kentucky Oaks prep GIII Fantasy S., featuring the highly regarded Godolphin homebred Wet Paint (Blame), and the GIII Oaklawn Mile S.

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