Byron King's Derby Dozen for March 22

RacingContent provided by BloodHorse
Horses break from the starting gate in the 2023 Fountain of Youth Stakes, with eventual winner Forte (third from right, dark green jockey cap with white lettering) bumping slightly out of the third post.. (Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park)

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.

There were no qualifying points races for the 149th Kentucky Derby last week, but four are on the schedule for March 25-26: the Louisiana Derby; the Jeff Ruby Steaks; the UAE Derby; and the Sunland Park Derby.

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.

Bob Coglianese/Gulfstream Park

1. Forte 

The current Kentucky Derby favorite resumed breezing following his victory in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes with a four-furlong move March 17 at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida. Spotting workmate Crupi two lengths to begin under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte finished just in front of his workmate at the finish and over the gallop-out while under less urging. He appears to have exited the Fountain of Youth in top condition, pointed toward a return start at Gulfstream Park in the April 1 Curlin Florida Derby, a race Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has won a record six times.

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Instant Coffee  

Eager to see him in action in the March 25 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds after a couple of months without racing. Having amassed 32 qualifying points for the Derby from his efforts last year and in winning the Jan. 21 Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds, trainer Brad Cox elected to skip the Feb. 18 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Lincoln and Lamarque Crescent City Ford, leaving this colt fresh for the Louisiana Derby and with something left for the Triple Crown. The Lecomte has been a productive race, with third-place Confidence Game winning the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and fourth-place Denington taking an allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds. Two other participants returned with thirds, including Two Phil’s in the Risen Star.

3. Tapit Trice 

If he follows the same post-race workout schedule as Forte for Todd Pletcher, he will likely resume breezing this weekend at Palm Beach Downs, two weeks after his victory in the March 11 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. The April 8 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland is next, where he could face National Treasure and other top Derby hopefuls. He will need a complete performance there to secure victory against a field more robust than the group he just defeated. He broke slowly and recovered after climbing early behind kickback in the Tampa Bay Derby, rolling late to win by two lengths but over no other Derby Dozen-ranked horses.

BENOIT photo

4. Practical Move 

The San Felipe Stakes and Los Alamitos Futurity winner turned in a sharp solo drill March 18 at Santa Anita Park in :47.60. His rider kept him under a snug hold while glancing down at his stopwatch down the stretch. Expect more demanding drills as Practical Move nears the April 8 Santa Anita Derby, one of the more successful Kentucky Derby preps of recent years, producing four winners since 2012. Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit, trained by Bob Baffert, would have made a fifth in 2021 but was ultimately disqualified for a medication positive, a ruling under appeal.

Eclipse Sportswire

5. Reincarnate 

The Rebel Stakes third-place finisher worked a swift six furlongs this past Saturday in 1:12.40 for trainer Tim Yakteen, though he came under mild pressure from his rider. Working with the Bob Baffert-trained Murray, and with the pair coming inside another horse breezing a shorter distance, Reincarnate needed a few slaps on his left shoulder to maintain his pace and an edge over Murray. So he dips a spot from third to fourth in the rankings. Never off the board in six starts and winner of the Sham Stakes this year, he gained seasoning in the Rebel when he was off sluggishly and had his rally impeded down the stretch when sandwiched. The April 1 Arkansas Derby is his next target.

6. Geaux Rocket Ride

A rematch with Practical Move is on deck in the Santa Anita Derby. Though he lost to him in the San Felipe, this colt did the dirty work by pressing early leader Hejazi. He also had a wider trip than the ground-saving Practical Move, despite Geaux Rocket Ride being the speedier of the two early. This lightly raced colt should benefit from experience. The San Felipe was just his second outing and was his first start in a stakes and around two turns. He responded well from the race by working on Saturday, covering a half-mile in an easy :49.20 at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

7. Verifying 

Due to a troubled trip in the Rebel in which he was shuffled back on the second turn and in early stretch when in traffic, he did not get to run to his potential when fourth, beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Confidence Game. In winning an allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park earlier in the year, he scored by pressing the pace in the clear and pulling away, the kind of trip that his connections would love to see from him in his final Derby prep next month. With only 14 points, he likely needs a top-three finish next out to secure the customary qualifying points to make the Derby.

Coady Photography

8. National Treasure

Scratched from the San Felipe with a sore foot, he bounced back quickly, recording a pair of works, six furlongs in 1:11.80 at Santa Anita Park March 14, followed by a five-furlong breeze in 1 minute flat just five days later. The Tim Yakteen trainee is pointed for the Blue Grass Stakes, Daily Racing Form reported, where a showdown with Tapit Trice and other top Derby hopefuls looms. He likely needs to run first or second to have sufficient Derby points. Though he has placed in three graded stakes, including two Grade 1s, he has no existing Derby points due to being trained through late February by Bob Baffert, who remains barred from participation this year by Churchill Downs Inc.

Coady Photography

9. Confidence Game

This 3-year-old needed more recovery time following the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes than other starts, not working until Saturday, when he breezed a half-mile in 50 seconds at Fair Grounds for trainer Keith Desormeaux. With 57 qualifying points toward the Derby, he does not need to start again before the Derby, though he could do so should he give Desormeaux the appropriate signals. Third on a fast track in the Lecomte Stakes when close to a hot pace, he relished the sloppy conditions in the Rebel at Oaklawn, benefited from a patient ride, and took advantage of Reincarnate and Verifying encountering traffic.

Eclipse Sportswire

10. Rocket Can

This South Florida-based runner, winner of the Holy Bull Stakes and runner-up in Fountain of Youth Stakes, will likely head to the Arkansas Derby. His owner Frank Fletcher is an Arkansas resident, and though Fletcher runs horses across the country, a home game for him has its appeal. By leaving Florida, Rocket Can further avoids Forte, the division leader. First or second in four consecutive routes, he showed determination to be runner-up in the Fountain of Youth, though he was no match for Forte.

11. Angel of Empire 

Trainer Brad Cox likes to space out the starts from his horses on the Derby trail, as reflected by Instant Coffee’s skipping the Risen Star Stakes and this colt’s bypassing the Louisiana Derby. The Arkansas Derby now appears to be the target, though Cox could juggle his lineup and point for one of the other key preps early next month. Either way, Angel of Empire figures to race 1 1/8 miles, a trip over which he won the Feb. 18 Risen Star last month, albeit in slow time. He ran well in a prior start at Oaklawn Park when second in the Smarty Jones Stakes to loose-on-the-lead stablemate Victory Formation.

Eclipse Sportswire

12. Red Route One

The Rebel Stakes’ fast pace and race flow worked in his favor, so he is placed toward the bottom in the Derby Dozen rankings behind three participants from that race, though he was second in the Rebel. This colt had a pretty smooth trip, finishing with a flourish when angled to the outside. Typical of many deep closers, he often settles for minor awards, including when second in the Southwest. He runs next at Oaklawn in the Arkansas Derby. He looks like a horse that will appreciate 1 ¼ miles in the Derby, though he will need racing luck to come from the clouds.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!