Juvenile champion Forte after his Fountain of Youth victory (Coglianese)
By Laura Pugh
The Road to the Kentucky Derby is about to hit a fever pitch as the start of the Championship round gets underway starting March 25th. The Championship round consists of eight Kentucky Derby preps that offer a grand total of 200 points. A finish in the top two, all but guarantees those horses a spot in the gate of the 2023 Kentucky Derby.
This weekend, a grand total of five Kentucky Derby point races will be contested, two of them offering 200 points. Those would be the Louisiana Derby and the Jeff Ruby Stakes. This is where we see the old guard from 2022 clash with the new faces that emerged from the first two rounds of preps…with that in mind…who is most likely to make it into the final draft of the Kentucky Derby top 20???
Just about anyone with 40 points or more is likely to stay in the top 20, barring any physical setbacks, but the most obvious of these has to be Forte. He finished 2022 on top, and came back with a flourish in the Fountain of Youth. He seemingly has it all. The mind, the speed, the stamina, the running style, the experience. If he progresses in the Florida Derby in a couple weeks, he’ll be tough to handle, and should be a very deserving early favorite.
Practical Move is the next most obvious choice. He’s not flashy with his wins, but he’s got more than enough speed and talent to edge out just about anyone else in the top 20. Very similar to Forte, he’s got the mind, experience, the talent, and the style to do well.
Instant Coffee rounds out this trio. He only has 32 points, but given the competition he’ll be facing in the Lousiana Derby, the race is his to lose. The stretch at the Fair Grounds plays perfectly to his stretch running style and the plus is he has enough points that even if he were to finish third, he’d still receive 20 points, giving him a grand total of 52. That would be more than enough to secure him a spot in the Kentucky Derby gates.
Reincarnate had all the promise in the world and looked ready to deliver after his win in the Sham Stakes. But a very troubled trip held him to a disappointing third in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. With only 15 points to his name, he’ll need a top two finish in his final prep, which look like it’ll come in the Arkansas Derby. The talent is definitely there, but this one needs to learn how to make his visits to the winners circle much more consistent.
Congruent wouldn’t be a blip on the radar if it wasn’t for synthetic surfaces. The son of Tapit struggled in every start he had on dirt and turf, but released a monster performance in the John Battagila Memorial Stakes. The victory earned him 20 points. He’s pointing the the Jeff Ruby at the same track on March 25th. If he runs back to the race he ran in the John Battaglia, that should be another easy 100 points.
Red Route One loves to get second. He finished second to Arabian Knight in the Southwest Stakes, then followed that up with another second in the Rebel Stakes to Confidence Game. This Gun Runner colt loves to come out of the clouds, and very similarly to his sire, he’s been taking steps forwards in each of his races this year. A win, place, or show in the Arkansas Derby would give him enough points to make the gate… but to be honest, a win wouldn’t be unexpected with his current progression.
Blazing Sevens was once a top contender for the 2023 Kentucky Derby, but after a dismal showing in the Fountain of Youth, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for this one’s chances. After winning the Champagne Stakes he ran a lack luster fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then never ran a step in the Fountain of Youth. He’s currently aiming for the Wood Memorial, where many of third and fourth stringers are looking at a last-ditch attempt for points. Though, honestly, that field might even be too much for him.
Two Phil’s has been a very well-liked horse in 2023, never really a favorite, but viewed as a sort of “wise guy” horse… Though betting him wouldn’t seem overly wise to me at this point. Since turning three, he just hasn’t really progressed, and it shows as he’s fallen farther behind in each of his 2023 starts. Unless there is a drastic turn around, which I don’t see happening, he’ll soon be dropping out of the Kentucky Derby top 20.
Just like Two Phil’s, Curly Jack has just not make the progression into his sophomore year. The son of Good Magic’s numbers have stayed consistently mediocre, without every moving up. His next start looks to be the Louisiana Derby, where he’ll come against Instant Coffee and Angel of Empire. Both horses that he’s already faced and lost to. The chances of him turning the tables on one of them is almost none.
With the Road to the Kentucky Derby entering its late stages look for the cream of the crop to continue to rise. I would not be surprised in the least if Forte and Practical Move separate themselves as the ones to beat in their final preps. On the flip side, it would greatly surprise me if any of my “Heck No’s” run well enough to get the points needed to secure the Kentucky Derby spots. The just haven’t progressed.
I do think we should keep an eye on Reincarnate and Red Route One. Especially the latter, as there is always one horse that makes the Kentucky Derby exacta and trifecta an absolute bomb. This year, I think that might be him.