Grading the Kentucky Derby Workers

April 22, 2023

Derby favorite Forte (outside) works alongside Bright Future (Coady Photography)

By Laura Pugh

No more Kentucky Derby prep races doesn’t necessarily mean slow days…. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The week of April 16 featured a lot of Kentucky news, starting with the Japan contingent settling in at Churchill Downs, followed by the Pletcher brigade. It also saw the first works of those horses over the Churchill Downs oval.

While workouts aren’t the be-all-end-all in a plethora of handicapping tools, they can be very useful in determining the form of a horse, and how a horse is handling their surroundings. Given that many of these will be contesting their first race at Churchill Downs, it can show just how well a horse is adapting to the new surface. 

This week we saw timed moves from UAE Derby winner, Derma Sotogake; Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes winners, Forte and Tapit Trice; Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Verifying; and Arkansas Derby hero, Angel of Empire.

Forte 5f in 1:02 Flat

The final time is anything but impressive, but looking at his prior work history, Forte has never been one to blow us away with jaw-dropping work times. In fact, in several, he appears lazy. That doesn’t change here.

The splits were as follows… :26.20, 38.60, 1:02, Gallop Out 1:14.40, and 1:27. 

While they started out slow, Forte and his workmate, Bright Future, cranked it up during the last quarter mile, which calculates to 23.40.

What impresses me here is how easily Forte seemed to be moving through that last quarter, especially in comparison to Bright Future. Once he had measure of Bright Future, Forte appeared to be going pretty easily. The gallop out splits calculate at :12.20 and :12.60. 

Grade: A

Angel of Empire 6f 1:13.40

The son of Classic Empire has had two workouts at Churchill Downs, the first coming April 15th, the most recent April 21st with the others mentioned above him. In neither work has Angel of Empire inspired confidence.

In his April 15th work, Angel of Empire went in company with Tapit’s Conquest. Despite getting that final quarter in :23.80, he never passed the workmate and gave the impression that he wasn’t going as easily. In this latest work, he went in company with Jace’s Road, getting splits of :12.20, :23.80, :35.60, 1:00.40, and 1:13.40. The duo galloped out an extra furlong in 1:26.40. 

The early splits were quick in this work, but they weren’t able to keep up the pace, getting that last furlong in :13.40 seconds. Given that the Kentucky Derby is run at 10 furlongs, or 1 ¼ miles, fast early and pedestrian late, isn’t what you want to see. 

Angel of Empire also never gained even a minor advantage over his workmates.

Grade: D

Derma Sotogake 4f in :49.6

The UAE Derby winner took his first spin around the Churchill Downs oval on April 19th, the first of all. 

Similar to Forte, Derma Sotogake started slowly, getting his first eighth of a mile in 13 seconds flat. From there, he went :37.20 and :49.60. Given these splits, his second quarter came in :24.20, and his final eighth in :12.40. 

According to his exercise rider, they weren’t looking to go too fast, but still thought that Derma Sotogake worked “brilliantly.” This was pretty evident as the rider had a pretty firm hold on the colt as he came down the stretch. 

Given that this was his first work over the track, and with nothing to judge it against, I would say it looks as though Derma Sotogake handles the track just fine. Now we just need to see how he performs once the crowds start to show up. 

Grade: B

Tapit Trice 4f 48.60

Officially, this was just a half-mile work, but given the steadiness of the splits, one could almost argue that it was more of a 5-furlong move. 

I will say, if you are a fan of this colt, you couldn’t have asked for a better first work. They didn’t provide a lot of splits with this one, just the initial furlong, in :12.80, the final time :48.60, and the gallop out of 1:01 and 1:13.80. This calculates to the “final” 3/8th’s in a steady :35.80, followed by splits of 1:2.40 and :12.80. Looking at nothing but the splits, this works strikes me as incredibly steady. When I look at the video in conjuncture, I say it was done with the utmost of easy.

Tapit Trice was never once asked for run while his workmate was repeatedly pressed for more. Despite that, he still edged his workmate at the wire, giving the impression that the track won’t be an issue in the least and that he’s coming into the race very well. 

Grade: A

Verifying 5f 1:01

Verifying worked in company with fellow Kentucky Derby contender Hit Show. This was another very steady-looking work on paper, though I would actually say even more impressive than Tapit Trice’s. 

The splits were :12.60, :24.20, :48.60, and 1:01. There was not gallop out given, but I timed the video myself and caught the duo in :12.80.

Very similar to Tapit Trice, Verifying was never really asked during this work. However, the son of Justify looked absolutely loaded the entire way, always giving the impression that there was a LOT more left in the tank. 

During the gallop out, he gained a little over a length advantage to Hit Show and kept his ears up the entire time. 

Grade: A+


As stated, works aren’t the be-all-end-all, but they can be helpful. I’d like to see more from Verifying, Tapit Trice, and Derma Sotogake. Namely, how they behave once the crowds start to turn out, and if they can continue their progression. 

Verifying gives the impression of getting good at the perfect time, and it doesn’t hurt to love the track if that is the case. The son of Justify has been giving me “Super Saver” vibes, and this work just cements those vibes. 

Angel of Empire really needs to step up his game. His last two works have not been impressive in the least, especially that last one. He’s likely got one more coming late next week, but unless it is an A+++, I can’t see him making much of an impact in the Kentucky Derby. It could be that the “other Cox”, Verifying, is the one to watch.

Contributing Authors

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh

Laura Pugh got her first taste of Thoroughbred racing when she watched War Emblem take the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2002. At that...

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