We’re going to take a look at the Florida Derby! Forte won the Florida Derby this year, cementing his spot as the early Kentucky Derby favorite. What can we say about Forte that you haven’t heard before? Well, how about we see him as unlikely to win the Kentucky Derby!
Let’s take a play-by-play look the race, and I’ll explain why.
Forte breaks cleanly from post 11, but not all that quickly, then he moves towards the inside and gets a decent spot to save ground. The pace in front of him is quick, so the race is setting up well for a deep closer like Forte.
He holds his position towards the back of the pack all the way through the backstretch with Mage. As the horses leave the backstretch and head into the far turn, you’ll see Forte slowly gaining ground outside of horses. He then stalls briefly as number 4 Mage makes a huge move to his outside. I think that hesitation is significant and I’ll get into why in a moment.
Forte has a long powerful stride and seems to prefer running room. As soon as Mage blazes on by, Forte picks up the pace again. If you watch the replay, you’ll see that Forte attempts to follow Mage, who gets a quick jump on him as they go through the turn. But it takes a lot of effort by Forte’s rider Irad Ortiz to regain his lost momentum. So as they enter the stretch it looks like Forte is struggling as he moves to the outside. But it’s really a case of Mage continuing to finish strongly and Forte trying to build up speed again.
Both horses finish the final eighth of a mile in just over 12 seconds, which is very impressive on both their parts. But here are three reasons why I see Forte as vulnerable, despite his impressive late rally:
1) Forte hates a crowd. I think that hesitation on turns is one sign of that. Another piece of evidence is that Ortiz loves to drift in and intimidate horses to his inside in the stretch run. It’s a signature move of his, and he’s been criticized widely for being too aggressive in doing that. But when he did that with Forte last year in the Breeders Futurity, he almost lost to Loggins, who was a very inexperienced house. I believe Loggins was only making a second start and he just lost by a nose to Forte. So it looks like Forte hung in that race when he was asked to crowd a rival. Since then Ortiz has not tried that move again with Forte. He has kept Forte wide in all of his victories since that race.
2) The Florida Derby time was nothing special. It was only the 13th best winning time in the past 24 years. Unless the early pace is blazing fast, a deep closer must be clearly faster than his rivals. Forte is not, so he’s got a problem there too, with his actual speed as measured by final time.
3) Forte gains momentum slowly. He cannot stop or slow and then immediately snap back to his higher rate of speed. In my book The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby I cite several examples of these types coming up a little short in the derby because their momentum got interrupted. On a crowded highway, would you rather bet on the motorcycle or the bus to make it through traffic? We saw examples of that paradigm play out perfectly in 1993 with Sea Hero. Sea Hero had the early speed and the ability to start or change directions quickly. Prairie Bayou and Wild Gale were the deep closers who were highly regarded, especially Prairie Bayou. If you watch that race, they’re all towards the back of the pack and approximately the same amount of distance behind the leader, and they all start their rallies about the same time. Sea Hero is able to start on a dime when asked, and he gets a jump on all of them, kind of like Mage did in the Florida Derby with Forte. Wild Gale is a grinder, and he loses ground by going to the outside while Prairie Bayou gets stuck behind other horses.
As they go to the wire Prairie Bayou is making up a lot of ground, but Sea Hero got the jump and he got the win in that race.
We also see it in 2000, when speedy Fusaichi Pegasus settled at the back of the pack with late-runner Aptitude. They both started their rallies about the same time, but Fusaichi Pegasus started quicker and finished quicker. Aptitude was only able to get up for a second.
Those aren’t the only two examples. On average the quicker horse tends to get to the wire first in the Kentucky Derby. There are exceptions like Street Sense who was a late-closing grinder. He managed to get the job done in 2009, but he’s the exception. You don’t see it happen very often. Rich Strike got it done last year as a deep closer, but that was an unusually fast pace and that’s what Forte would need to see here to get up.
He’s a very talented horse, and he’s got tremendous late closing ability if he gets room. We look forward to seeing some exciting victories from Forte later this year, but we won’t be betting on him in the Kentucky Derby.