Forte is 3-1 favorite for Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs


LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Todd Pletcher-trained colt Forte and Brad Cox’s filly Wet Paint are the morning line favorites respectively for the 149th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

Forte, the 2-year-old champion whose 190 points led the Derby qualifying trail, drew the No. 15 post at 3-1 odds for the $3 million premier race for 3-year-olds. He brings in a five-race winning streak and has won six of seven starts including last month’s Florida Derby won by a length over Mage, who will start from the No. 8 post at 15-1 odds.

Stablemate Tapit Trice is the 5-1 second choice after drawing the No. 5 post, with Cox’s Angel of Empire (154 points) the 8-1 third choice after drawing the No. 14 post.

Wet Paint will lead the $1.25 million Oaks from the No. 7 post at 5-2 odds. One of three fillies trained by Louisville-born Cox among 14 entrants for the 1 1/8th mile race, she has won all three starts this year and enters with consecutive Grade 3 stakes wins in the Fantasy and Honeybee respectively at Oaklawn Park.

Stablemate Botanical is the 4-1 second choice from the No. 6 post with trainer Norm Casse’s Southlawn the 8-1 third choice from the No. 4 post.

Any suspense over where Forte would start the 1 1/4-mile race was gone quickly when the son of Violence and Queen Caroline by Blame was called out with the first pill drawn. That also relieved Pletcher, a Hall of Famer, of stress after Mo Donegal and Known Agenda started the last two Derbys from the rail. They finished fifth and ninth respectively.

The two-time Derby winner had no complaints either with draws for Tapit Trice and Kingsbarns, a 12-1 choice from the No. 6 post. Both are 3-0 as 3-year-olds and coming off wins in the Blue Grass (Keeneland) and Louisiana Derby respectively.

“I do think it’s different with the one (post) with the new starting gate,” Pletcher said. “But still, I felt like it cost us a position or two last year and the year before. So, just happy to get out of there and pretty pleased with all three post positions.”

Meanwhile, Cox hopes strength in numbers earns his first outright Derby victory just over 15 months since Mandaloun was elevated to the 2021 win following Medina Spirit’s failed postrace drug test.

Angel of Empire certainly has the credentials after his 4¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. He has two wins and a second as a 3-year-old and a solid post just two spots right of stablemate Jace’s Road (50-1). Those posts might offset Cox’s dread after Hit Show (30-1) and Verifying (15-1) drew the Nos. 1 and 2 posts, forcing both to avoid getting bunched against the rail out of the gate.

“Angel of Empire, I think it’s a good draw,” Cox said. “(Jockey) Flavien (Prat) will be able to break running and get a good spot mid-pack. That’s what I’m envisioning. Jace’s Road will probably be more forwardly placed as opposed to Angel of Empire. Hopefully he can get himself up into the mix.”

Wet Paint and Botanical have decent spots in the Oaks, offering Cox two good chances to win that race for the third time in six years.

Post time for the Derby is 6:57 p.m. ET. The Oaks goes off at 5:51 p.m. ET.

The Kentucky Derby field from the rail out with odds: Hit Show (30-1); Verifying (15-1); Two Phil’s (12-1); Confidence Game (20-1); Tapit Trice (5-1); Kingsbarns (12-1); Reincarnate (50-1); Mage (15-1); Skinner (20-1); Practical Move (10-1); Disarm (30-1); Jace’s Road (50-1); Sun Thunder (50-1); Angel of Empire (8-1); Forte (3-1); Raise Cain (50-1); Derma Sotogake (10-1); Rocket Can (30-1); Lord Miles (30-1); Continuar (50-1). Also eligible: Cyclone Mischief (30-1); Mandarin Hero (20-1); King Russell (50-1).

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance

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NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.

Judge grants Churchill Downs’ request for summary judgment to dismiss Bob Baffert’s lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has granted Churchill Downs’ motion for summary judgment that dismisses Bob Baffert’s claim the track breached due process by suspending the Hall of Fame trainer for two years.

Churchill Downs Inc. suspended Baffert in June 2021 after his now-deceased colt, Medina Spirit, failed a postrace drug test after crossing the finish line first in the 147th Kentucky Derby. The trainer’s request to lift the discipline was denied in February, keeping him out of the Derby for a second consecutive May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings ruled in a 12-page opinion issued Wednesday that Churchill Downs’ suspension of Baffert did not devalue his Kentucky trainer’s license. It cited his purse winnings exceeding $1 million at Keeneland in Lexington and stated that his argument “amounts to a false analogy that distorts caselaw.”

Jennings denied CDI’s motion to stay discovery as moot.

The decision comes less than a week after Baffert-trained colt National Treasure won the Preakness in his first Triple Crown race in two years. His record eighth win in the second jewel of the Triple Crown came hours after another of his horses, Havnameltdown, was euthanized following an injury at Pimlico.

Churchill Downs said in a statement that it was pleased with the court’s favorable ruling as in Baffert’s other cases.

It added, “While he may choose to file baseless appeals, this completes the seemingly endless, arduous and unnecessary litigation proceedings instigated by Mr. Baffert.”

Baffert’s suspension is scheduled to end on June 2, but the track’s release noted its right to extend it “and will communicate our decision” at its conclusion.