Repole: Forte can get an education in Florida Derby

Repole: Forte can get an education in Florida Derby
Photo: Ryan Thompson / Gulfstream Park

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher did not attempt to conceal his disappointment after post positions were drawn for a field of 12 for the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

“I wish we weren’t in post 11,” Pletcher said after positions were drawn last Saturday and his colt, Forte, drew near the outside. “Statistically, we’re clearly at a disadvantage. But he’ll just have to prove he’s that much better to overcome it.”

A Horse Racing Nation report Monday noted that in the last five years, 10 starters from post 11 had gone winless at the Florida Derby distance. When posts 9 through 12 are considered during that span, only two of 54 starters got the job done when breaking from that far outside. Gulfstream, with a relatively short homestretch, can be unforgiving to horses who find themselves in early trouble.

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Co-owner Mike Repole would have preferred anything closer to the middle of the pack for his 2-year-old champion and regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. But he is embracing the inauspicious draw as a good way to prep for the rumble that the 20-horse Kentucky Derby always promises to be.

“I’m excited about this because of the education he can get from this because we all know at Churchill you can get the one post or the 20 post. There is no race out there like that,” Repole said during a phone interview. “It takes a special horse that can overcome adversity.”

Everything about his Violence colt continues to suggest he is special, and he might have to be to add the Florida Derby to his resume. With 90 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, his place on the first Saturday in May is already ensured.

“I think this is an opportunity for him to get more experience,” Repole said. “He’s going to be swung out wide, he’s going to have to tuck in at some point, he’s going to get dirt in his face. There is a lot of speed. He might be seventh or eighth.”

Forte’s commanding 4 1/2-length decision in the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream in a rousing 3-year-old debut did not send the competition scattering from the $1 million Florida Derby on April 1. If all 12 run, it will be the largest field for the key prep since eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown bested 11 foes in 2008.

Repole praised Pletcher and his team for the way they prepared Forte for the Fountain of Youth. He co-owns the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable.

“You never know how a horse is going to develop between 2 and 3,” Repole said. “Having five months off and having that performance, you couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“This is what you dream of, this is what you hope for, this is what you want to see," he continued. "He showed him the whip. He never got the whip. He sat behind horses in a most professional manner.”

Repole estimated that fans saw only 80 percent of Forte when he dominated the Fountain of Youth for his fourth consecutive victory. The youngster closed a memorable 2-year-old campaign by rattling off victories in the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Juvenile. He suffered his lone defeat when he ran fourth in the July 16 Sanford Stakes (G2) at Saratoga in his second career start.

Repole described Forte as the “most talented” of his Kentucky Derby prospects, which is saying a lot considering that 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, 3-for-3 as a sophomore, previously led that group. Uncle Mo suffered a shocking upset in the Wood Memorial, his final Derby prep, and was scratched the day before the 2011 Kentucky Derby with a rare liver disorder.

Forte is giving every sign that he continues to flourish. “He just does everything right right now,” Repole said. “He’s getting very close to brilliance.”

The always enthusiastic Repole suggested that brilliance might be revealed from post 11 in the Florida Derby.

“I do think he’s an incredible talent. He’s training great,” he said. “I do think we could see something special on Saturday.”

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