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Champ Forte Heads Florida Derby Nomination List

Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion Forte is the early betting favorite for the Preakness Stakes. (Photo:/Shamela Hanley/Eclipse Sportswire/Breeders Cup).

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte, the 2022 juvenile champion who made an auspicious 2023 debut in the Feb. 4 Fountain of Youth (G2), is prominent on a list of 23 3-year-olds nominated to the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa April 1 at Gulfstream Park.

The 72nd running of the Florida Derby, a history-rich 1 1/8-mile Triple Crown prep, will be featured on a program with 10 stakes, including five graded stakes.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Forte professionally negotiated traffic and a wide trip on his way to a dominating 4 ½-length Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, backing up a stellar 2-year-old season, during which he captured three straight Grade 1 stakes – the Hopeful at Saratoga, the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

Pletcher has saddled a record six Florida Derby winners; Scat Daddy, (2007), Constitution (2014), Materiality (2015), Always Dreaming (2017), Audible (2018) and Known Agenda (2021).

Whisper Hill Farm LLC’s Tapit Trice, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) who is likely to return in the April 8 Bluegrass (G1) at Keeneland), and Classic Catch, a recent allowance winner at Gulfstream, also represent Pletcher on the Florida Derby nominations list.

Forte Wins Fountain of Youth

Albaugh Family Stable LLC’s Cyclone Mischief, who set the pace before giving way late to finish third in the Fountain of Youth; and West Paces Racing LLC’ and Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Dubyuhnell, the winner of last season’s Remsen (G2) at Belmont; are among the nominees already scheduled to start in the Florida Derby. Cyclone Mischief,, a son of Into Mischief, is trained by Dale Romans.

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Frank Fletcher Racing Operations, Inc.’s Rocket Can, who finished second behind Forte in the Fountain of Youth after capturing the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream, was nominated to the Florida Derby by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott but is not listed among the probable starters. Mott-trained Jungfrau, a son of Arrogate who finished off the board in the Withers (G3) at Aqueduct after breaking his maiden for Juddmonte, is a candidate to return in the Florida Derby.

OGMA Investments and partner’s Mage, who finished fourth in the Fountain of Youth following an eye-catching debut victory at Gulfstream, has been nominated to the Florida Derby by trainer Gustavo Delgado, who is also looking at the April 8 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland for the son of Good Magic.

Yakteem Nominates Trio

Trainer Tim Yakteen is represented on the Florida Derby nominations list by three horses, Reincarnate, National Treasure and Fort Bragg. The trio of formerly trained by Bob Baffert and owned by SF Racing and partners are scheduled to race in stakes elsewhere.

Gary Barber’s Classic Car Wash, who finished second in the Tampa Bay Derby, was nominated to the Florida Derby but is expected to race elsewhere.

Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. is represented on the nominations list by seven 3-year-olds, including West Coast Cowboy, Lord Miles, Mr. Peeks, Mr. Ripple, Nautical Star, Prairie Hawk and Run Cory Run.

The Florida Derby will be supported on the April 1 card by the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), the $200,000 Pan American (G2), the $150,000 Orchid (G2), the $150,0000 Ghostzapper (G3), the $150,000 Appleton, the $150,000 Sand Springs; the $100,000 Sanibel Island, the $100,000 Cutler Bay and the $100,000 Sir Shackleton.