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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, Marcy 29, 2023 – On paper, Forte (4-5) is a layover when measured against his rivals, odds-on to give Todd Pletcher his seventh victory in Gulfstream Park’s signature event for three-year-olds.

Yet, he is the kind of favorite that the wise guys will attempt to beat him.

For openers, there is post 11 in a field of 12, and lest we forget that the extreme outside in two-turn Grade 1s at Gulfstream has seen but one horse ever to overcome it, Big Brown from post 12 in 2008.

But Big Brown had the early speed to break and clear; Forte is a mid-pack strong finisher. It will be up to Irad Ortiz to figure it all out off the break. Counterpoint:  There is plenty of speed signed on, including two coming out of sprints, and a ex-Baffert speed merchant via Southern California.

While this is a 100-point affair, it’s not a must-win situation for the favorite, who is assured a spot in the Louisville gate having more than enough qualifying points. Counterpoint: Should he not win the Kentucky Derby, a win on Saturday would be the fourth Grade 1 of his career. Repeat after me: Shareholder Value.

Of the 11 that will line up against him, not one owns a Grade 1 win.

Pedigree pundits will question whether he truly has a sire line that gets 10 furlongs. That point may be so fine as to be moot. Counterpoint: Lesser horses have outrun their pedigree and many Derbies are won by the horse in front at the eighth pole, demonstrated class carrying them the rest of the way.

Our best guess is that seven out of 10 tickets will have Forte singled in their multi-race wagers; the Florida Derby concludes a 14-race program. Which of his 11 rivals hold the best chance? Here are our top sis winners’ circle pretenders, listed in post order with early line odds:

1-Jungfrau (20-1):  Following his Gulfstream debut in which he was elevated to first via the stewards following a nose defeat, Bill Mott shipped him back to Aqueduct for the G3 Withers, his second run going nine furlongs, and was virtually eased. Would Mott enter the Arrogate colt back in a Grade 1 vs a champion at the risk of embarrassing himself and Juddmonte? We don’t think so either, Paco Lopez rides.

3-Shaq Diesel (30-1): Thanks to contributor Chet Bishop, agree this colt merits super-exotics inclusion. Cooked on the pace in the G2 Risen Star, he won his prior in Oldsmar but of greater significance is 2-for-2 in Hallandale and reunites with winning partner Miguel Vasquez for his return. Blinkers off here suggests more patient handling and two recent works at his Tampa base indicates he’s no worse for the wear after his foray into NOLA. (*edit made 032023, 11:19 am)

4-Mage (10-1): What a nice colt. Following an impressive 7-furlong score on debut he was entered back 37 days later in the G2 Fountain of Youth and acquitted himself well with a fourth-place finish behind Forte, chasing the pace while wide every step of the way. By productive young sire Good Magic, from a Big Brown mare, Puca, he appears to have a future, albeit not in this spot. Luis Saez replaces Javier Castello who opted for Cyclone Mischief.

9-Cyclone Mischief (8-1) Look great with a powerful mile run in his Hallandale debut then was empty as the G3 Holy Bull favorite in his two-turn return. He rebounded with a good third to Forte in the G2 Fountain of Youth setting a pressured purse throughout, especially at the turn. He held well to win a show photo, has worked with purpose subsequently and gets Castellano as Gaffalione travels to Hot Springs. Might benefit with a patient stalking trip from the outside.

10-Fort Bragg (5-1) Raced evenly in a quickly run San Felipe behind solid Derby aspirant Practical Move. On balance, the ex-Bafferts have improved in their second start in this campaign and this colt seems likely to follow that trend. Tim Takteen will sub for Baffert here for a Tapit colt badly in need of Derby points is the connections have an eye on May’s first Saturday. Gets a switch to Joel

12-Dubyahnell (6-1) deserves to have a line drawn through his effort as the G3 Sam F Davis favorite. Racing over a greasy wet track, he was buffeted about on the first turn, checked out of trouble, checked again into the far turn, made a small run while wide into the lane and understandably tired late. He’s been the training star coming into this but the draw did him absolutely no favors. Jose Ortiz has been aboard for all career starts.

So, will Forte ship into Louisville looking to become the 16th Florida Derby hero to win the Kentucky Derby since 1956? It’s horse racing where anything can happen when least expected. And what does his rider think?

“He can stay all day on his stride,” Ortiz told a Gulfstream press staffer. “He has a turn of foot but he stays. He stays with that speed – that’s good on dirt. He sees the competition and he goes for it,” before adding:

“I know him a little better. I know what he wants to do and how he likes to run. I have a lot of confidence in him. I trust him. I trust him.” His mind is for sure changing. He’s doing things a little better. He doesn’t hesitate. He’s not like a 2-year-old anymore. He’s figured out what he needs to do, which makes it good for me.”




EXOTICA: Trifecta Key: 11 // 1-3-4-9-10-12 *Trifecta Wheel: 11 // //


The Skinny: Lots of fillies in various stages of the career, each looking for their proper present level and whether they indeed are ready for bigger game, the Oaks that’s run on the first Friday in May at Churchill Downs.

5-Miracle (5-2) is a deserving favorite based on her narrow defeat, albeit game effort, when second to Pretty Mischievous who had a conditioning edge in that match. Making her second start with a switch to Irad Ortiz Jr. following three subsequent works at her Palm Beach base, she will take beating.

9-Dorth Vader (4-1) is a very fast and talented Florida bred coming off a sharp score in the Davona Dale in fast time, her third win in five runs at Gulfstream. She lacks a win at the trip but was third to Miracle’s mate 6-Atomically (7-2) in the Florida Millions Distaff. The latter should benefit from her season’s debut when third to fast Red Carpet Ready after being compromised by a tardy break.

It would not be wise to dismiss recent maiden graduate 4-Affirmative Lady (10-1), a gutsy win over the track after bumping her way through a narrow opening leaving headstretch to win in full stride then galloped out strongly through the clubhouse turn. Luis Saez takes the call from Graham Motion whose barn has come alive in recent weeks. 2-Infinite Diamond (6-1) fits the race sharp, is nicely drawn inside to Rosario, and both lifetime wins came here *(edit made 0331, 11:13 am)


WIN VALUE PLAY: Affirmative Lady to win at 8-1 or greater

EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 2-4-5 Exacta Box 4-5-9 Exacta Box: 4-5-6 Trifecta Wheel: 5 // //



The Skinny: Unlike it’s counterpart in South Florida, this nine furlong Grade 1 is contentious, making it an excellent betting race. The four at the top of most tickets include 8-Reincarnate (5-2), 10-Red Route One (3-1), 7-Rocket Can (4-1) and 6-Angel of Empire (9-2) all merit serious attention. The first two, exiting the G2 Rebel,: Reincarnate got the shuffle early and in deep stretch; and Red Route One, coming from last of 11 with some trouble rallying out in the center and beaten a mere length by a ground-saving Confidence Game. Take your pick, we prefer the more tactical California-based Reincarnate.

Also well documented was Angel of Empire’s pace-assistant strong late run in the G2 Risen Star; Fair Grounds based horses have been enjoying success wherever they run next. Flavien Prat replaces Luis Saez, who has a full dance card at Gulfstream Park.

4-Two Eagles River (10-1) and 3-Harlocap (15-1) are interesting local price shots. The former showed improvement in his second start around two turns going a mile, drawing out in late stretch after setting a sift, albeit. somewhat pressured pace. Runnerup Disarm returned to finish a good second in last week’s G2 Louisiana Derby. Harlocap battled hard on the Risen Star pace and was still trying in midstretch but did tire badly run the final sixteenth appearing in need of the run. Will benefit but must avoid a repeat of his last trip; Asmussen trainee switches to off-and-on stable rider RIcardo Santana Jr.

After winning the G3 Holy Bull, Rocket Can ran into champion Forte in the G2 Fountain of Youth and was no match for three three-time Grade 1 winner. Few are. But he was a very game second after chasing the pace while forced to maintain position between horses much of the way. Worked two bullets since and no Forte today. Check out 2-Interlock Empire’s (20-1) recent two-turn maiden breaker; stranger things have happened.


WIN VALUE PLAY: Two Eagles River at 8-1 or greater

EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 4-7-8-10 Exacta Key Box: 7 // 4-8-10. Trifecta Wheel: 7 // 4-8-10 // 2-3-4-6-7-8-10


The Shinny: Should 6-Wet Paint (8-5) run back to either of her two most recent starts, the battle should be for the place. Nitpickers will posit that her three wins have come on wet tracks, and they would be correct. What they may not tell you is that they were her only dirt starts and all three came around two turns. She had every right to lost the Honeybee when left with too much to do. But she has gears and a big late engine. Nicely drawn mid-gate with Prat, she’s 2-for-2 over the course, at this trip.

Contention will come from 8-Royal Spa (4-1) and 2-Grand Love (8-1). Royal Spa won her recent debut sprinting and at 2 she was a better than looked 4th in the G2 Demoiselle at nine furlongs off a single sprint debut. She had a brilliant five furlong drill since, gets three pounds under the allowance conditions and Santana re-rides. Grand Love was an even third behind the favorite in the Honeybee, appearing in need of her season’s debut. Purposeful work-line line will have her much tighter and she’s nicely drawn inside with Tyler and also getting three pounds.

Three interesting price shots are a pair from Mike Maker; 3-Towhead (10-1) and 7-Pate (20-1)and very-late rallier, 5-Take Charge Briana (20-1) for the Coach.


WIN VALUE PLAY: Royal Spa at 7-2 or greater

EXOTICA: Exacta Box: 2-6-7 Trifecta Key: 6 // 2-3-5-7-8 Trifecta Wheel: 6 // 2-7 // 2-3-5-7-8

Per usual: Suggested multiple wagers are at minimums available; straight wagers are in $2 units

this is a live column, selections and commentary will be updated through the weekend so check back before post time prior to wagering. Look for the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Oaks qualifiers G2 Florida Oaks and G3 Fantasy Stakes to follow

*late edits, editions

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17 Responses

  1. Shaq Diesel is the long shot of the day. His last race was the first time going the distance where he was involved in a fast pace up front. He comes into the Florida Derby without blinkers for the first time having worked a bullet last work without it, galloping out in 1.12 at Tampa. He will need to run his best race but he is coming into the race at his best. His pedigree includes none other than AP Indy and Summer Squall.

  2. A plausible reach and thanks for sharing at HRI Mr. Bishop. Will give a look after completing our research into the race.

    A safe and speedy journey to your upset runner, et al.


    Having delved further, the Khozan colt merits super-exotics inclusion.

  3. My choice is Mage. Hit the gate and had lots of other trouble during a brutal trip in the Fountain of Youth.

    1. He will be my second choice, followed by Cyclone Mischief., but I do believe in-money chaos is possible, too…

        1. True enough on both counts Dan. Considering his lack of experience, Mage made a great effort, only to be beaten by a champion. He clearly has a stakes with his name on it somewhere down the line…

  4. Saturday April 1, 2023
    Gulfstream Park

    14th race,Florida Derby
    Well were not going to make very much on Forte, who will be breaking from post 11 at odds-on. He is an early developer breaking his maiden May 27th of last year and in my opinion most of his development is behind him. What to do? I’m going to take a stab on Mage.
    Now hear me out. He broke his mdn in January at 7 furlongs, which is not easy to do, then went right in to a two turn graded stakes race where he hit the gate, bumped, steadied and was 3-5 wide around both turns. He was 1 length out of it in the stretch and tired. Can you say upside. Delgado switches to Saez, His go to guy and he needs the points. He’s about 3 length’s short of Forte but 3 year olds develop quickly. I’m going to bet him at 10-1 or more. To fill out your exotics you have to use Forte, He’s the best horse and underneath #10 Fort Bragg and #12 Dubyuhnell. I understand that I’ve used a lot of outside posts but that’s for second, Third and forth, not for the win.

    Race 12, Oaklawn Park
    Arkansas Derby

    1. Rocket Can- broke mdn by 3rd start, came in the money in his very next race, ran 2 turns at 2, won the Holy Bull and finished second to the favorite in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The pick. Underneath looks pretty chalky but if you must, put him with the 6,8,10

    Good luck to all and let’s go get those bad guys, vin

  5. Mage ran great, Vino, as we said to Dan. But I too was very disappointed in the effort made by Rocket Can who might not have cared for the transition to Hot Springs. Still, he should have run better.
    Time to start thinking of next Saturday’s four-prep weekend…

  6. Irad ortiz might shatter every single season record of importance this year. Look at the 2023 jockey stats on Equibase. It’s sublime

    1. Doc, Think maybe I need to go back to Cauthen when he had the bug in NY to find a rider that dominated an entire meet like he has. It seemed he was in the sweet spot of every race, then won out of town stakes, too.

      Irad has been no less than amazing this winter and I’m glad he doesn’t seem to be resort to those tough race-rides as he has in the past Hopefully, that’s where that stays–in the past.

      1. 100% agree. I really don’t care for him when he is being dangerous out there, but if he stays in this zone of riding hard but fair, he is going to be really hard to keep out of the All Time Greatest conversation. When he is riding on this ‘side of the law’, its watching a master at his craft – it is a thing of beauty.

      2. Forgot this until after I hit ‘post’ before, but was thinking about jockeys and do you remember when Chris Antley would ride a full card at Belmont, win 4 races, and then drive over to the Meadowlands and win 4 more on the night card?

        Also this just popped into my head; I loved the dining area with views of the track at the Meadowlands for those evening programs. I should make it a point to catch a card again assuming they are running another one this October. And they had that Halloween non-graded stake for gray horses.

        1. What was that, like the Grey Ghost Handicap, something like that?

          Loved Chris Antley, he was a sweet kid when I knew him. Those damn demons almost always get you. That was sad, truly…

          Ant Man was great on turf…

  7. To me, the most important jockey stat is ROI.

    Whatever happened to Julissa Laredo ? Last mount in 2016. 9 for 177 career record, but those 9 wins !

    Career ROI 106%. $354 wagered on all horses she rode would have returned $730.30. Profit = $376.30

    Track; Date; Horse; Odds to 1; WIN payoff
    AQU; 2013-04-20; QUIET MIRACLE; 12.40; 26.80
    AQU; 2013-02-24; PENCIL PAPERS; 8.50; 19.00
    AQU; 2013-02-16; BWANA BOOYAH; 21.10; 44.20
    AQU; 2013-01-27; TAKE THE EL TRAIN; 128.75; 259.50
    AQU; 2013-01-05; FIRSTBELLATHENKK; 114.00; 230.00
    AQU; 2012-12-26; GRAND AWARD; 25.50; 53.00
    FL; 2012-08-20; PERFECT GRATITUDE; 2.45; 6.90
    FL; 2012-08-07; MELODY QUEEN; 36.75; 75.50
    FL; 2012-07-30; IF AND ALMOST; 6.70; 15.40

    1. Scouped me Dan, must admit I know nothing about this rider. In terms of ROI, I agree, but think only important over short durations, such as a meet, or with specific trainers. In the long run, meaningless as positive ROI lifetime for any rider are negative.

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