Road To Kentucky Derby Standings: Can Any Horse Beat Forte?

Written By Dave Bontempo on April 3, 2023

Final-furlong fascination engulfs the Road to the Kentucky Derby, with the qualification wire in sight. Forte closed as the 5-2 favorite Saturday in the final Kentucky Derby futures pool at Churchill Downs, shortly before he won the Florida Derby. Nyquist in 2016 was the last 5-2 favorite to win the Derby. No Derby favorite has been 2-1 or shorter since 2003.

Other racing connections take one last stab at valued entry points for the May 6 Run for the Roses via three major qualifying events on Saturday. The Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Park in New York, the Blue Grass Stakes from Keeneland in Kentucky and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park in California all carry substantial point rewards. Each offer 100-40-30-20-10 in places one through five and any collection of points may propel some horses into the Derby qualifying circle.

Kentucky Derby invitations go to connections of the top-20 horses from the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep-race series. That enhances the drama of Saturday’s stakes races.

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Kentucky Derby Standings

Forte, the top 3-year-old with 190 qualifications points for the Derby, owns three straight triumphs after a miraculous rally to salvage the $1 million Florida Derby at 1-5.

Angel of Empire, now second with 154 points, did more than win the Arkansas Derby at a sweet price of 9-2 on Saturday. He earned a career-high Beyer speed figure of 94 and, according to trainer Brad Cox, will ship to Churchill Downs on Tuesday.

Angel of Empire will train at the site of the Derby until the race. Forte, meanwhile, will train in South Florida and ship to Churchill Downs later.

Here is the latest KY Derby leaderboard, courtesy of Churchill Downs.

Runners-Up May Have Punched Derby Tickets

While Forte and Angel of Empire are the recent big winners, Mage raised eyebrows with 40 points in the Florida Derby to total 50, good for 12th. Mage had finished fourth to Forte in the Fountain of Youth, made a monumental leap and had Forte beaten with 50 yards to go in the Florida Derby.

Only a terrific surge by Forte and adroit handling by Irad Ortiz denied Mage the big victory. But he likely has enough qualifying points for another rematch on May 6 at 1 1/4 miles.

Cyclone Mischief, third in the Florida Derby, improved to 45 points for 15th on the list.And what better realm than the Sport of Kings to say “Hail to the King.” That’s a salute to King Russell, who notched a shocking second at 58-1 behind Angel of Empire. He is 18th with 40 points and has a strong chance to make the final cut.

Florida Derby Recap

Sent off the 1-5 favorite, Forte had to beat the largest Florida Derby field since Big Brown also defeated 11 rivals in 2008. He also had to do it from the second-widest post since 1991. Big Brown won from Post 12 and Barbaro from Post 10 in 2006. Both horses would go on to win in Kentucky.

Forte had the additional task of swinging five wide around the final turn, a spot from which most horses are not going to win. But he also had a gem of a jockey.

Ortiz, the leading jockey at Gulfstream Park, showed a mastery of the surface and of his horse. His perfectly-timed ride helped get Forte up in the nick of time.

Forte needed every bit of his pedigree and Ortiz’ magic to prevail. His dilemma underscored the importance of position and handling, which will be magnified in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby.

Arkansas Derby Recap

Angel of Empire, meanwhile, won the same Arkansas Derby his father Classic Empire did in 2017.

Stalking smoothly in the back stretch, he inched closer under the astute handling of Flavien Prat and made a definitive move around the turn.

It was his second consecutive victory at 1 1/8 miles and occurred in similar fashion to his triumph in the Risen Star.

A relative shock occurred underneath. King Russell, a 58-1 longshot, outkicked late-running Red Route One and nudged other contenders to nab second place. He had just broken his maiden at this track and distance. Connections put him in the race trying to catch lightning in a bottle and they did.

There’s always magic in horse racing and King Russell may become another Cinderella Story.


The Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule began in September. However, the win-and-in races began Feb. 18 with the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. That was the first race that awards 50 points to the winner. Below is the race schedule for the remaining prep races. Those race winners qualify as Kentucky Derby horses, if entered.

RaceTrackDatePoints For Top Finishers
Wood MemorialAqueductApr 8, 2023100-40-30-20-10
Blue GrassKeenelandApr 8, 2023100-40-30-20-10
Santa Anita DerbySanta Anita ParkApr 8, 2023100-40-30-20-10

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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo, who writes extensively on the emergence of legalized sports betting, is a recipient of the Sam Taub Award for Broadcast Excellence by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has broadcast boxing for all the major networks over the last four decades and is a member of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame as well as the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame. His work also can be seen at the Press of Atlantic City and iGamingPlayer.

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