Saturday plays: There is strategy beyond Forte in Florida Derby

Saturday plays: There is strategy beyond Forte in Florida Derby
Photo: Max Lashin/Eclipse Sportswire

Forte faces an interesting test in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream on Saturday. He must overcome post 11, which is not an easy feat on this track because the race starts on the turn in two-turn dirt routes.

                    Click here for Gulfstream entries and results.

Is Forte still the right horse to use? Read below for the answer, as well as bonus selections and bets for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Arkansas Derby.

Gulfstream race 14: Florida Derby (G1)

Given Forte’s return win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), he looks on track to progress off his excellent 2-year-old season and enter the Kentucky Derby as one of the main contenders, if not the top contender.

Maybe Forte can overcome the wide trip and prevail like a champion. With that said, Forte’s poor post position means searching for other options makes sense, even though he does remain part of the play based on his ability and class. After all, he is the division leader and that makes him hard to ignore. 

The next best win option is Cyclone Mischief, who set the pace in Fountain of Youth before getting tired late and holding on for third over Mage. Despite the fade, Cyclone Mischief still made an improvement over his dismal Holy Bull Stakes (G3) effort where he ran in between horses in the early stages and ended up a non-threatening seventh at 6/5 odds.

As for the third win option Mage, perhaps the talented colt can move forward off his Fountain of Youth effort, where he had a bad trip.

Because of his poor start in the Fountain of Youth, Mage had to run wide and around horses on the first turn. Mage ended up joining the leaders Cyclone Mischief and Rocket Can on the backside and kept up with pair while running wide again on the far turn, before Forte circled all of them.

With a cleaner break though, Mage could end up setting the pace and last longer. Remember, Mage did break his maiden after leading under pressure. 

The most interesting long shot is the maiden Mr. Peeks. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. has the experience to know whether or not a maiden belongs in a Grade 1, and he must think highly of this colt to start him in here with no wins in tow.

Mr. Peeks lost his second attempt at breaking his maiden, but note the conditions of the race. The maiden special weight was open to 3-year-olds and upwards, and Mr. Peeks ended up losing by only 1 1/2 lengths to the 5-year-old horse A La Carte, who probably has a good year ahead of him.  

Now Mr. Peeks stretches out from six furlongs to nine furlongs. The pedigree seems OK for longer routes though with California Chrome on top and a Tiz Wonderful mare named Ms. Bubbette as the dam. Ms. Bubbette won up to 1 1/16 miles in her 15-race career as a turf runner.

Mr. Peeks is the back-wheel key as long as he stays 15-1 or longer.

Exacta: 4,9,11 / 5

Trifecta: 4,9,11 / 4,6,9,10,11 / 5

Oaklawn race 12: Arkansas Derby (G1)

Rocket Can exits the Fountain of Youth, where he sat right off the pacesetter Cyclone Mischief through the backside as Mage joined them. The trio entered the far turn together, but they were soon in deep waters because of the looming favorite Forte, who ended up passing the trio.

Forte opened up in midstretch for an easy win by a clear margin, but at least Rocket Can won the battle for second over Cyclone Mischief in third and Mage in fourth.

Rocket Can lost by 4 1/2 lengths to Forte, the division leader. If Forte is the best 3-year-old among his peers, then Rocket Can faces lesser horses in this spot at Oaklawn while Forte remains in Florida to take care of his business in the Florida Derby.

If nothing else, Rocket Can’s tactical speed will come in handy as he can sit right behind the expected leaders Harlocap, Two Eagles River and possibly even Reincarnate if he manages to break well. Once those speed horses become tired, Rocket Can only needs to make up a few lengths as a stalker.

When glancing at Rocket Can’s past performances, also notice that he has run first or second in all four of his dirt route efforts, which includes a win in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) in February after enduring a wide trip.

Angel of Empire also ran first or second in all four dirt routes. In his most recent start, he won the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds while taking advantage of a fast pace as a closer. The pace might not heat up quite as much in this race, but Angel of Empire should still receive fair enough fractions to close into.

The same comment about the pace scenario applies to the deep closer Red Route One, who loves to finish second. Red Route One closed for second in the Southwest Stakes (G3) to Arabian Knight, the talented Bob Baffert-trained colt who defected from the Derby trail, and he also closed for second once again in the local Rebel Stakes (G2) to Confidence Game.

Rocket Can over Angel of Empire and Red Route One is the play.

Win: 7 (at 3-1 or longer)

Exacta: 7 / 6,10

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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