Kentucky Derby Preps: Florida, Arkansas Derby Previews
Five weeks before the 2023 Kentucky Derby, a handful of major prep races remain.
The Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby are 200-point races on this week’s schedule. Both are run at a mile and an eighth and offer the same points structure: 100 points to the winner and 40-30-20-10 for second through fifth. A victory in either race earns entry into the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May. A second-place finish is probably good enough, too.
If the Kentucky Derby was run today, Forte would be the heavy-betting favorite. That’s the role the 3-year-old colt will play on Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby, his final prep race. Forte is a huge 4-5 favorite on the morning line despite an unlucky post-position draw in a large field.
The $1.25 million Arkansas Derby on Oaklawn Park, the richest of the U.S.-based Kentucky Derby preps, drew a field of 11. What the Arkansas Derby lacks in star power it makes up for in competitive quality, with several potential Kentucky Derby contenders in an outstanding betting race.
The road to the Derby began in September 2022 and continues through April 15. The top 20-point qualifiers earn automatic entry into the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Date: Saturday, April 1, 2023
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Purse: $1 million
Florida Derby Analysis
Despite the presence of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Forte, the Florida Derby field is longer on quantity than quality. Of the 12 horses entered, only Forte and Dubyuhnell are stakes winners. Seven horses in the field have only one lifetime win, one other is a maiden (no wins).
The post-position draw may have helped even things out a little. It’s a short run from the starting gate to the first turn, and the No. 11 post ensures a wide early trip for Forte. Through last week in races over a mile on the Gulfstream Park dirt, horses starting from the 11 post were just 3-for-58, according to Gulfstream Park stats.
The ground loss is real, but the stat may be a bit deceiving: Horses starting from the outermost post 12 were 3-for-27, an 11 percent win rate, twice as high post 11.
With 90 points, Forte ranks fourth on the Derby leaderboard and already has enough points to make it to Louisville. But all others in the field need help. Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. entered four horses in the race, though none is lower than 20-1 on the morning line.
Florida Derby Selections
1. Forte towers over this field both in speed figures and class. He easily beat a similar field to this in the Fountain of Youth at 1-2 odds and will be a similar price again. The post-position draw doesn’t help, but his significant edge over this field makes him difficult to go against even at a very short price.
2. Mage is lightly raced (only two starts) and should improve after finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth, less than seven lengths behind Forte after a wide trip all the way around. He will be forwardly placed. Solid speed figures, but will need to run faster to turn the tables on Forte.
3. Dubyuhnell (pronounced W-H-N-L) also drew poorly and his last race as the Sam F. Davis Stakes betting favorite was awful. He was bounced around and steadied hard on the first turn and didn’t offer much after that. His 2-year-old form last year was solid and deserves another chance.
Florida Derby Betting Strategy
There is no value in the W-P-S pools on Forte. Find the most likely runner-up and play a large exacta. If you believe Forte is vulnerable, then make straight bets on the horse you believe is most likely to spring the upset. You will find value no matter which horse you choose.
Date: Saturday, April 1, 2023
Distance: 1 1/8 miles
Purse: $1.25 million
Arkansas Derby Analysis
Unlike the Florida Derby, the field in the Arkansas Derby is so well-matched, it’s not clear who the betting favorite will be. A reasonable case can be made for more than half the horses in the field.
Perhaps the most accomplished horse in the field is Rocket Can, who won the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park and then finished second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth. Trainer Bill Mott may have chosen the Arkansas Derby, rather than the Florida Derby, to avoid Forte.
North America all-time winningest trainer Steve Asmussen has two in the field with complimentary styles. Harlocap is likely to be on or near the early lead, Red Route One will be coming from far back. Red Route One was second in the Rebel Stakes, the local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Also coming out of the Rebel are Reincarnate (third) and Bourbon Bash (fifth).
Angel of Empire, who won the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans at 13-1 odds last time out, is another obvious contender. That win looks even better after third-place finisher Two Phil’s came back to dominate the Jeff Ruby Steaks last weekend.
Despite its lucrative purse and Grade I status, only one Arkansas Derby winner in the past 19 years went on to win the Kentucky Derby. That was American Pharoah, who went on to win the Triple Crown in 2015.
Arkansas Derby Selections
1. Reincarnate ran a strange but impressive third in the Rebel last time out. Normally forwardly placed, Reincarnate was shuffled to near the back of the pack, then was impeded while gaining ground down the stretch and still ran credibly over a sloppy track. Expect him to be closer to the early pace this time. Top veteran rider John Velazquez stays aboard the gray colt, who has never finished off the board in six career starts.
2. Rocket Can has an encouraging speed figure pattern. Each of his last four races was as good or better than the last. He earned his highest speed figure running second to Forte in the Fountain of Youth. He will be rallying from mid-pack. He already has 40 points and doesn’t need to win this to make the Kentucky Derby field.
3. Not sure where Red Route One will finish, but expect him to be last early. He was 19 lengths back in the Rebel, had an ideal fast pace to close into and finished a non-threatening second, beaten a length. Adds blinkers this time. With one victory in seven career starts, the question is whether Red Route One is a deep closer who passes a handful of horses late, or good enough to pass them all in a race like this.
Arkansas Derby Betting Strategy
Straight bets on Reincarnate, who is likely to be sent off at 3-1 or higher. Couple him in exotic wagers with Rocket Can, Red Route One, Two Eagles River, Bourbon Bash and Angel of Empire.
Another possible wagering strategy is to key Red Route One second and third in trifecta wagering and include as many of the others as you can afford. That worked in both the Rebel and Southwest Stakes.
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