The Kentucky Derby is up for grabs.
The starting gate will contain 19 horses vying to wear the garland of red roses and $3 million purse at the 149th edition of the race, which will take place on Saturday, May 6, and one of those will be Confidence Game, which recently had Ocean Reef Racing, a horse-racing syndicate based in Key Largo, announced their partial ownership of a thoroughbred contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
“We’re incredibly excited to have the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of a Kentucky Derby-qualified horse and a part of the Derby Trail,” said Billy Paynter, who manages Ocean Reef Racing. “It’s an exciting time for all of us with Ocean Reef Racing and a great reason to come together.”
While many syndicates wait much longer to get a stake in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” Paynter and his team accomplished this feat within three years.
“It’s amazing; an honor,” said Paynter. “Kentucky and Florida have had long ties together over the course of the thoroughbred and horse racing business, and we look forward to what happens next. I never would have thought that just three short years into forming Ocean Reef Racing that we would have a ranked horse in the Kentucky Derby.”
The “Run for the Roses” will mark Confidence Game’s eighth career race, four of which were held at the historic Twin-Spires Kentucky racetrack. Coming off a 10-week layoff, much longer than most contenders, he won the Rebel Stakes by a length on Feb. 25. The dark bay colt was purchased for $25,000, making him the least expensive horse in the field. Perhaps tellingly, his other two career victories came at Churchill Downs as a 2-year-old. His sire is Candy Ride, who also produced 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Trainer Keith Desormeaux is the brother of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux. The racehorse is fresh off winning the $1-million Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park in February.
Other top contenders during Saturday’s race will be Forte, entering the Derby on a five-race winning streak and the early 3-1 favorite. He rallied in the Florida Derby to win by a length after being ninth in the early going and lost just once in seven career races, as a 2-year-old. He’s trying to become just the fourth 2-year-old champion since 1980 to go on and win the Derby.
Forte is one of three horses in the race trained by Todd Pletcher, a two-time Derby winner. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. knows the colt well, having ridden him in all of his races. Forte is co-owned by Mike Repole, whose Uncle Mo was the early favorite for the 2011 Derby but scratched the day before because of illness. His other owner is Vincent Viola, who owns the Florida Panthers and co-owned Always Dreaming, the 2017 Derby winner trained by Pletcher.
Derma Sotogake is one of two Japanese horses in the field, along with Mandarin Hero. They’re just the third and fourth Japan-bred entries in Derby history. Derma Sotogake is coming off a wire-to-wire victory by 5 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby. Owner Hiroyuki Asanuma is a dermatologist in Hokkaido who uses the word derma as the first part of all his horses’ names, while Sotogake is an outside leg trip in sumo wrestling.
Angel of Empire just won a 4 1/4-length victory in the Arkansas Derby, where Derby rival Reincarnate finished third. One of four Derby horses for trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native. Flavien Prat will be aboard, the fifth different jockey for the colt. He’s one of three Derby contenders with at least $1 million in earnings.
“It gives me goosebumps to even think about what could happen, and for the Key Largo community,” said Paynter. “I’ll be a nervous wreck until we come out of the starting gate on the first Saturday in May but know the Key Largo residents will be cheering us all on.”