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Forte’s Much-Awaited Return Headlines Four Derby Preps

BC Juvenile Champ Faces 9 in Fountain of Youth

Todd Pletcher-trained Forte starts his road to the Kentucky Derby on Saturday when he breaks from the four hole in the $400,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Forte has been off since November 4 when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 1½ lengths at Keeneland for his fourth victory in five career races. The son of Violence faces a talented field that includes Champagne winner Blazing Sevens, Holy Bull champ Rocket Can and Swale winner General Jim in the 1 1/16-mile battle that will go off as Race 14 at 5:43 p.m. ET.

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Forte
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Forte - Dylan Buell/Getty Images/afp

Four former Bob Baffert-trained horses, who have been moved to Tim Yakteen’s barn, will also start in the $400,000 Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita on Saturday. Baffert is under suspension by Churchill Downs and his horses cannot earn Derby points until it is lifted. The 1 1/16-mile San Felipe goes off as Race 6 at 5:36 p.m. ET.

The $300,000 Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct includes two former Baffert horses and goes off at 4:56 p.m. ET as Race 9 while the $150,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park starts at 9:25 p.m. ET as Race 8. The Fountain of Youth, San Felipe and Gotham award 50 Derby points to the winner while the Battaglia offers 20.

Forte Will Be Tested

Forte is the morning-line favorite in the Fountain of Youth at 7-5 in the horse racing odds despite the long layoff and Pletcher is pleased at how his talented colt is acting for his 3-year-old debut.

“I think he’s training better now than he has at any stage of his career,” Pletcher told Horse Racing Nation. “. … He’s gained some weight. He’s broadened out a little bit. He’s always mentally been a really straightforward, professional horse.”

Forte, who is the current favorite to win the Kentucky Derby according to Las Vegas horse racing odds, is running at Gulfstream for the first time and should get a test from rail horse General Jim. The Shug McGaughey-trained colt ran down a horse loose on a slow pace to win the 7-furlong Swale at Gulfstream on Feb. 4.

Blazing Sevens, who was fourth in the BC Juvenile and breaks from the No. 6 post, also makes his 2023 debut for trainer Chad Brown and Bill Mott-trained Rocket Can (No. 8) is second off a layoff after winning the Holy Bull impressively on Feb. 4 at Gulfstream. Improving Shadow Dragon (3) was a closing second in the Holy Bull and Mage (7) won his debut win at 7 furlongs.

  • Forte should get enough pace to close into if you are betting online. We think Pletcher will have him ready to roll. Bet 4 on top of 1, 6 and 8 in trifectas.

Wide-Open San Felipe

National Treasure, who was third in the BC Juvenile before finishing a disappointing third in the 1-mile Sham Stakes on Jan. 8 at Santa Anita under Baffert, breaks from the No. 2 post to headline the San Felipe.

Yakteen has taken over National Treasure, Hejazi (7), Fort Bragg (9) and Mr. Fisk (11) from Baffert and already had a talented runner of his own in Practical Move (3).

This race should have lots of speed, led by Hejazi and Geaux Rocket Ride (8) among others, which should set it up nicely for National Treasure, Los Alamitos Futurity winner Practical Move and even El Camino Derby champ Chase the Chaos (1). John Sherriffs-trained Skinner (11) is also interesting at 5-1 in the horse betting odds after winning at one mile last time out.

  • Bet a 2-3 exacta box. Make small win bets on 1 and 10 if 5-1 or better.

Big Field in Gotham

The 1-mile Gotham Stakes may have as many as 14 horses competing and could feature an early speed duel.

The key might be to find a place just off the lead and not get drawn into chasing too soon in the race. Lugan Knight (No. 10), who won the 1-mile Jerome at Aqueduct on Jan. 7, boasts speed but has shown the ability to sit just off the pace for trainer Mike McCarthy.

Lugan Knight will have plenty of competition, especially to his right in the gate. Brad Cox-trained Slip Mahoney (11) broke his maiden at a mile on Jan. 21 at Aqueduct, Raise Cain (12) was second in the 1 1/16-mile Gun Runner at Fair Grounds on Dec. 26 and Cox’s Eyeing Clover is 2-for-2 – both at 6 furlongs. Yakteen also takes over Baffert’s Carmel Road (5), who was second in the Los Alamitos Futurity. Closer General Banker (6) is a good horse to use underneath.

  • Bet 11 over 5,6,10,12 in exactas.

Dozen To Go in Battaglia

Rich Strike finished an unchallenging fourth in the John Battaglia Memorial last year, followed that with a third-place finish in the Jeff Ruby Stakes at Turfway and then won the Derby at huge odds.

Twelve horses with those dreams will take to the all-weather track in Florence, Kentucky and it is anyone’s race if you are online gambling.

Brendan Walsh takes over Baffert’s Gilmore (3), who was second in the El Camino Derby at Golden Gate Fields last month, while Cox has two talented runners. Aristocracy (2) is 2-for-2 and American Speed (6) was second in a stake last time out for Cox.

  • Bet exacta box 2-3-6.

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