2023 Derby Rankings – Week 7

We finally got the kind of results we’ve been looking for as Forte and Practical Move established themselves as the two top horses, and we had several horses who were defeated that put their names in the mix with brighter things to come. Now it’s on to the Tampa Bay Derby. ~ Steve Haskin

Derby Rankings: March 6, 2023 – Week 7

By Steve Haskin

No. 1 ranked Forte, photo courtesy of Coglianese Photos/Lauren King


1—Forte (Todd Pletcher, Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame)

I will repeat what I have asked before, is there anything this colt can’t do? And I will add, does he have any weaknesses? So far, the only answer I can come up with on both questions is no. You never know how a horse is going to make the transition from 2 to 3, but Forte showed he is at worst the same horse he was last year. Coming off a four-month layoff, he always looked to be in command even being stuck down on the rail. We knew he was sharp coming off the layoff from the way he broke, but he settled nicely behind horses, patiently waiting for running room. All the while you knew once Irad Ortiz was able to pull the trigger the race was over. He finally was able to get him out in the clear four-wide and the race indeed was over. He quickly drew off with a :24 2/5 quarter and final sixteenth in :06 1/5, geared down in the final sixteenth, to win by 4 1/2 lengths. As I mentioned earlier, whether he’s inside or outside it doesn’t matter. Simply put, he knows how to get the job done. Finally, we have some clarity in the Derby picture, which for now revolves around Forte.


2—Practical Move (Tim Yakteen, Practical Joke – Ack Naughty, by Afleet Alex)

Could it be we now will have a fascinating East vs. West showdown to look forward to on the first Saturday in May? Practical Move’s victory in the San Felipe mirrored Forte’s score in the Fountain of Youth in a number of ways. Both were coming off layoffs, both were down on the inside for most of the running, patiently biding their time, and both ran like seasoned professionals who didn’t miss a beat despite the time off. Unlike Forte, who got to the outside, Practical Move waited for the rail to open up, and when the pacesetting Hijazi obliged, he shot through and methodically drew off a 2 1/2-length victory over the highly touted maiden winner Geaux Rocket Ride. Practical Move came home in almost identical closing fractions as Forte (:24 3/5 and :06 1/5) before galloping out some eight lengths clear of the others, looking like he wanted to around again. Yakteen and Practical Move have now beaten six Bob Baffert horses in their last two races, even if Yakteen was listed as the trainer of the three horses in the San Felipe. So we now have two emphatic leaders on both coasts who appear to be extremely talented and professional colts, who keep improving with every start. By the way, do you think he looks like a bargain now at 83-1 in the latest Future Wager? What in the world were people thinking? And he goes off as fourth choice in the San Felipe.


3—Tapit Trice (Todd Pletcher, Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk)

Yes, Pletcher does have another potential star who could make it a Big 3 if he wins Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby as impressively as he won an allowance race in his last start. This is another colt who appears to have all the tools and can beat you by a nose in a dogfight or leave you far behind. The horse he outdueled in his maiden score, Slip Mahoney, actually ran a good second in the Gotham Stakes after breaking poorly and dropping way out of it in last. Tapit Trice had his final work for his stakes debut, breezing a half in :49 1/5 in company with the promising Dreamlike. Breaking off a length behind his workmate he collared him on the turn, and as Pletcher horses always do, they finished up together with Tapit Trice edging a half-length in front at the wire and then galloping out extremely strongly, again getting the better of Dreamlike, who had the advantage of being on the inside. One horse who could test him is the Swale Stakes winner General Jim if he recovers from the cough that kept him out of the Fountain of Youth Stakes. This colt has unlimited potential and will be the highlight of Saturday’s races on the Derby trail, as we near that mid-March lull before the big 100 point races begin on March 25


4—Hit Show (Brad Cox, Candy Ride – Actress, by Tapit)

All we need now is a big powerhouse from New York to give the Derby trail a true regional scope just like we used to have, and this would be the horse to accomplish that if he can land back-to-back mile and an eighth graded stakes wins at the Big A in the Wood Memorial, if Brad Cox decides to send him back there after his decisive victory in the Withers Stakes. But we still have a long wait for that race, so all we can do is hope he stays healthy and look back at how he has progressed with every start, having run four times at four different distances at four different tracks. He did break his maiden impressively at Keeneland in his career debut, so you can’t rule out the Blue Grass Stakes the same day as the Wood  if Cox decides to go that route. Either way he will have two months between races and he might just need it after going nine furlongs on that deep tiring Aqueduct surface. In the meantime he had a solid five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 at Fair Grounds.


5—Reincarnate (Tim Yakteen, Good Magic – Allanah, by Scat Daddy)

It seems after the first five or six spots there is a gap to the rest of the horses, not regarding pure talent as much as accomplishments, foundation, proven class, and being a sure thing to handle the mile and a quarter. We do have several talented horses who have questions concerning experience, but this guy is not one of them, with six career starts all at a mile or longer and on fast and sloppy tracks and grass. We all saw what he did in the Rebel Stakes with a new trainer, traveling cross-country for the first time, running in the slop for the first time, and overcoming a poor start that left him far back in the 11-horse field after being on or just off the lead in all his previous starts. And on top of that he had his run stopped in the upper stretch when two horses put the squeeze on him forcing him to steady, recover, and then put in a big run to finish third. What was most impressive was how he was striding out in the final furlong with great extension despite all he had gone through earlier. He is a tough, gutsy colt who generates a lot of power and should be a major force from now on.


6—Instant Coffee (Brad Cox, Bolt d’Oro – Follow No One, by Uncle Mo)

It’s not that I still don’t have concerns about his lack of racing, skipping the Risen Star Stakes, and having only one race in 14 weeks going into the Kentucky Derby. It’s just that I can’t think of anyone else to put here who is as proven as he is and who has two graded stakes victories to his credit. As I mentioned before, he was once considered slow, but his huge Thoro-Graph leap in the LeComte may have necessitated a change of plans to give him more time rather than risk a “bounce.” He also beat Confidence Game by almost eight lengths in the LeComte and that colt came back to win the Rebel Stakes at odds of 18-1. He hasn’t shown that wow factor yet, but he has a strong sustained stretch kick and knows how to win. 


7—Rocket Can (Bill Mott, Into Mischief – Tension, by Tapit)

He is another I have not ranked high despite being a graded stakes winner because he has been too slow, beat a poor field in the Holy Bull Stakes, and hasn’t done anything to get you excited. But I have to admit he did show big improvement running second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes to Forte, and was beaten only a half-length by Confidence Game in an allowance race two starts back. So he definitely appears to be moving forward, and with Bill Mott you often have to have patience and expect his horses to keep improving. He is a complete outcross though five generations, his second dam Tough Tiz’s Sis, a daughter of Tiznow, was a multiple grade 1 winner, he has all three Triple Crown winners from the ‘70s – Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed — in his pedigree, in his dam’s second and third generations are the winners of four Breeders’ Cup Classics, and his fifth dam is inbred to Man o’ War. He is an attractive son of Into Mischief and you can expect another move forward in his speed figures.


8—Skinner (John Shirreffs, Curlin – Winding Way, by Malibu Moon)

At first glance you would have expected him to go on with his run in the stretch after making a big move instead of appearing to be hanging just a bit and content with finishing fourth. But there was more to take out of his performance, such as coming back in only 20 days since breaking his maiden where he ran career high speed figures and then not being able to train up to this race as he normally would have because of the bad weather and having his final work nine days before the race. The track was, as Shirreffs put it, very unforgiving, and he did put in a powerful five-wide move on the far turn, running a swift :23 1/5 quarter before evening out in the stretch, perhaps due to the missed training and coming back off a big effort in only three weeks. Give him credit for continuing to persevere in the final furlong to get up for third though a fast final sixteenth. With it all he was beaten 3 3/4 lengths by one of the most accomplished 3-year-olds in the country. He no doubt has made big improvement from 2 to 3 and has finally figured how to be a professional racehorse. If you’re looking for classic bloodlines, his sire sired a Belmont winner and his two grandsires sired a Kentucky Derby winner and a Preakness winner.


9—Confidence Game (Keith Desormeaux, Candy Ride – Eblouissante, by Bernardini)

As you can see from previous comments he has been running big races against some pretty good horses and seems to be improving to where he has to be considered a legitimate Derby contender. And he’s been consistent, having finished in the money in six of his seven starts. He has the pedigree and the running style and Desormeaux knows what to do with a good horse. With a career-high Beyer figure of only 83 he jumped to a 94 in the Rebel Stakes and did it running on his wrong lead in the stretch. Also his Thoro-Graph number catapulted from a 7 to a 2, which puts him right up there among the fastest 3-year-olds. So either he freaked in the slop or he has emerged as a horse to watch from now on. As you are well aware by now he is going to have a huge fan base with his dam being a half-sister to Zenyatta,


10—Red Route One (Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner – Red House, by Tapit)

He is another who ran a monster race in the Rebel Stakes coming from more than 19 lengths back to finish a strong second. Although he has won only one of his seven starts he has turned in strong stretch runs in six of them. He is the type of horse who is going to need racing luck, and I am still convinced he would have won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes had he not gotten stopped in the stretch. And you sure can’t fault him for his second to Arabian Knight in the Southwest Stakes and third to Forte in the Breeders’ Futurity. In the Rebel his Thoro-Graph number improved from a 6 1/2 to a 3 3/4, so he is moving up the proverbial ladder to where he should be competitive against anybody. Being by Gun Runner, out of a Tapit mare, is pedigree is made up of two of the hottest sires in the country. I don’t think we have seen him anywhere near his best.


11—Geaux Rocket Ride (Dick Mandella, Candy Ride – Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo) 

As you may know by now I don’t like horses going into the Kentucky Derby with only three career starts, but it is becoming more and more of a reality with horses jumping into graded starts off one maiden sprint and running big. We saw it with Arabian Knight in the Southwest Stakes, we saw it in the Fountain of Youth Stakes with Mage, who had a troubled trip, and we saw it with this guy, who ran like a seasoned pro to finish second to Practical Move in the San Felipe Stakes. Coming off a six-furlong maiden score in 1:09 2/5, he tracked the pace, was floated a bit wide by Hejazi turning for home, cut back to the inside, and finished strongly, striding out beautifully in the final furlong. He certainly has thee pedigree to keep stretching out, and the only reason I am putting him ahead of Arabian Knight is that he is on a better schedule with better spacing between races. I don’t know whether they will face each other in the Santa Anita Derby, but I would expect another big move forward from Geaux Rocket Ride. After that he has to contend with history.


12—Arabian Knight (Tim Yakteen, Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology)

At least we finally saw him back on the work tab, as he turned in a strong five-furlong drill in :59 1/5. As I mentioned I am still concerned about his unexplained break and lack of works and now having to wait a long time to have his final prep before going into the Kentucky Derby with one race in 14 weeks. With Practical Move winning the San Felipe impressively and likely headed to the Santa Anita Derby I’m not sure if Yakteen wants to run both colts against each other when Arabian Knight has already won impressively at Oaklawn Park and could return there for the Arkansas Derby where he might have a better shot at picking up much needed Derby points. Yes, he no doubt is a very talented colt, but he has a long road ahead to get to the Kentucky Derby with a legitimate shot to win. What he needs now is more sharp works like the one he just had.


13—Raise Cain (Ben Colebrook, Violence – Lemon Belle, by Lemon Drop Kid

I know the Gotham Stakes was set up for him with the fast early pace and the first three finishers coming from 11th, 13th, and 12th, respectively, but looking back at this colt’s races trying to figure out how he could not only win this race at 23-1, but crush his field by 7 1/2 lengths despite having to check while making a big run nearing the top of the stretch, I came to the conclusion he is a better horse than his record might indicate. First, throw out his first and last starts, both on a synthetic surface. He was brilliant breaking his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths going seven furlongs at Keeneland. Dropping back to six furlongs in the Bowmans Mill Stakes at Keeneland, he pressed the pace, then for no apparent reason he quickly dropped back to last and appeared to be out of the race completely. But he regrouped and came on again to finish third. He then finally stretched out to 1 1/16 miles in the Gun Runner Stakes at Fair Grounds, something he’d been crying out for with his stamina-laden pedigree. He showed good tactical speed, and despite racing a bit greenly in the stretch, shying from the whip, he still kept coming and was able to nose out a good horse in Determinedly for second behind the promising Jace’s Road, while boosting his Beyer figure from a 60 to an 81. Put back on a synthetic surface in the Leonatus Stakes, he was four to five wide on the first turn and was wide throughout before dropping back to fifth. Coming off the synthetic surface, he was a tiger in the Gotham, just as he was coming off the synthetic and romping in his maiden race.


14—Slip Mahoney (Brad Cox, Arrogate – Get Lucky, by A.P. Indy)

This is my big monster longshot Derby sleeper who I feel is going to be extremely tough in his next race. I have always been a big fan of this colt watching his back-to-back gutsy stretch battles, the first one a neck defeat to Tapit Trice. In both races he was battling for the lead throughout and would not back down. This was a fighter in the true sense of the word. But in the Gotham Stakes, his first race against winners, he was looking around at the break, getting off slowly, and quickly found himself dead-last in the 13-horse field, more than a dozen lengths off the lead and well behind the next to last horse. When he was asked for his run, he took off and was flying by horses out in the middle of the track. While the winner was able to save ground rallying along the inside, he was forced nine, possibly 10-wide turning for home. Never asked to do anything like this before, he still came charging down the middle of the track to get second, while the winner got through in the upper stretch and was long gone. I am still convinced this is a very good horse who will be heard from.


15Angel of Empire (Brad Cox, Classic Empire – Armony’s Empire, by To Honor and Serve)

The quality of the Risen Star field is still in question, but he did win it and the runner-up Sun Thunder could turn out to be a nice horse who was ranked last week. Cox, despite some of is Derby horses running poorly, still has a boatload of them all over the place. This colt has won two one-mile races and a 1 1/8-mile race and was second in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes, so he has a lot of mileage under him and is as dead-fit as any of them. He just needs to get faster according to his 89 career-high Beyer figure. But his 2 1/2 Thoro-Graph number in the Risen Star was pretty fast and a huge jump from his previous race, so maybe he’s not as slow as some of his other figures might indicate. He did turn in a sharp half-mile drill in :48 3/5 over the weekend. Like many of the Fair Grounds horses he still has a lot to prove in his next start, likely the Louisiana Derby, against better quality horses.



Because of all the activity this weekend had to put some former ranked horses like VERIFYING and SUN THUNDER on hold for now. But I don’t think any the less of them and expect both of them to be right back in the picture in their next start. The latter turned in a sharp half-mile work in :48 2/5.

With FUNTASTIC AGAIN skipping the John Battaglia Memorial, the race was won in explosive fashion by the 16-1 shot CONGRUENT, who came from dead-last in the 12-horse field to blow the race open in the stretch, winning by 3 1/2 lengths. The son of Tapit had done little in his previous four starts, the last three on the grass. That makes two impressive longshot stakes winners this past weekend who came off grass or synthetic. His biggest effort had been a 2 1/4-length victory in the off-the-grass Laurel Futurity run on a sloppy track.

Earlier in the week we had a monster performance from HENRY Q, who was coming off a three-quarters of a length maiden victory for Doug O’Neill and then was turned over to Todd Fincher, who saddled him to a 14 3/4-length romp in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park. We’ll see what they do next with the son of Blame.

Earlier I mentioned the fast early pace of the Gotham Stakes, in which they went in :22 2/5 and :45 2/5. That scorching pace took its toll on RECRUITER, CARMEL ROAD, and RADIO RED, who were battling up front before fading badly, beaten from 18 to 24 lengths, So what does that make the undefeated EYEING CLOVER, coming off two six-furlong races who was right in the thick of that battle and wound up finishing fourth? Yes, he was beaten nine lengths when the winner drew off to his big score, but Eyeing Clover was only a length back at the eighth pole and was beaten a nose for third by the late-running GENERAL BANKER and 1 1/2 lengths by Slip Mahoney for second. Yet another Brad Cox colt, keep an eye out for this son of Lookin At Lucky. He is another who is going to be extremely dangerous in his next start.

Earlier I mentioned MAGE, who was thrown into the Fountain of Youth Stakes against Forte and company off one seven-furlong maiden victory, which he won by almost four lengths in a sharp 1:22 2/5. The son of Good Magic ran a huge race on Saturday after a troubled trip to finish fourth and was right there with Forte turning for home. He never gave an inch and was battling to the end, beaten 2 1/4 lengths for second. We also have to acknowledge the big bounce-back performance by CYCLONE MISCHIEF following his dismal effort in the Holy Bull Stakes as the 6-5 favorite. The son of Into Mischief set all the pace and hung in there gamely to finish third at odds of 15-1.

The big disappointment over the weekend was the surprising no-show performance by BLAZING SEVENS, who never ran a lick.

It was good to see VICTORY FORMATION back on the work tab, going a half in :48 following his disappointing performance in the Risen Star Stakes. Also on the wok tab this week was the unbeaten KINGSBARNS, who went a half in :49 1/5 for the Louisiana Derby, where he will be joined by stablemate LITIGATE, winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes. Both colts are trained by Todd Pletcher, who sent out maiden winner CLASSIC CATCH to score a workmanlike victory in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.


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