"I thought in the end it was spectacular," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Worried when the draw came out and post 11. We know statistically (that's) a really big disadvantage going 1 1/8 mile here at Gulfstream. To me, what was the most impressive was the last hundred yards. He came by me at the eighth pole and he looked beaten."
Forte's victory increased Pletcher's record number of Florida Derby wins to seven and gave jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. his sixth triumph on the afternoon.
From his post toward the outside in the 12-horse field of 3-year-olds, Forte was immediately angled inward by Ortiz with a quickly approaching first turn.
The colt settled in ninth as Southern California shipper Fort Bragg from post No. 10 ran to the lead and set fractions of 23.57, 46.71 and 1:10.63.
"Going to the quarter pole, he gave me a good feeling," Ortiz said of Forte. "He grabbed the bit and the outside horse moved and he gave me a good feeling and he's ready to roll."
Ortiz guided Forte to the far outside coming out of the far turn. He still needed to catch Mage and Cyclone Mischief down the lane, looking all but set for a third-place finish until a rousing late rally in the final yards enabled him to prevail.
Forte, the 1-5 favorite, posted a winning time of 1:48.51 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track. He paid $2.60 in beating the largest Florida Derby field since Big Brown defeated 11 rivals in 2008 from post 12.
Mage and jockey Luis Saez finished second, two lengths ahead of Cyclone Mischief.
The Florida Derby has been the most productive prep in Kentucky Derby history, producing 24 winners of the run for the roses, and offers qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-30-20-10 scale to its top-five finishers.
"I think it's on to Churchill," said trainer Dale Romans, whose Cyclone Mischief now has 45 points. "I thought today he looked like he handled (the distance) fine. The pace scenario might be a little different going (1 1/4 miles). It might even be better for him."
Pletcher's previous Florida Derby winners were Scat Daddy (2007), Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015), Always Dreaming (2017), Audible (2018) and Known Agenda (2021).
"He just continues to amaze us. He gets better and better," Pletcher said. "He handled the stretch out to a mile and an eighth and actually probably ran a mile and three-sixteenths today. It gives you a lot of confidence going forward." -- By Charlie McCarthey
2023 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa April 1st, 2023