Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher walked out of the winner’s circle with Irad Ortiz Jr. after they teamed to win Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Forte and joked with the likely-one-day Hall of Fame jockey.
“That was good but let’s see how you do from the 13 post,” Pletcher told the three-time Eclipse Award winner who rode Forte to a 1 1/2-length win over odds-on favorite Cave Rock Friday afternoon at Keeneland Race Course.
The run from post 13 didn’t go as well, but wasn’t terrible by any stretch – Major Dude finished ninth behind top Europeans Victoria Road and Silver Knott in the Juvenile Turf one race later – yet didn’t come close to measuring up to Forte’s victory in the 1 1/16-mile FanDuel Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
Forte, winner of the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity four weeks ago at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Hopeful on Closing Day at Saratoga a month before that, locked up the champion 2-year-old male title with his victory over 2-5 favorite Cave Rock and eight others. Owned by Repole Stable and St Elias Stable, Forte improved to 4-for-5 with the win.
“Cave Rock was getting the trip we expected and we were getting the trip we hoped for but you just don’t know if you’re going to run down a horse of that quality,” Pletcher said, making his way to the paddock for the Juvenile Turf to close the Future Stars Friday card. “Obviously delighted with everything. He got a beautiful trip. Just kept coming.”
A $100,000 purchase several sessions into last year’s Keeneland September yearling sale about 100 yards from the finish post for the Juvenile, Forte went to the post Friday as the 5-1 second choice. Cave Rock, a $550,000 purchase during the selected sessions of the same September sale and winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity and American Pharoah in California for Bob Baffert, dominated the pre-race buzz and looked live from the start.
Juan Hernandez kept Cave Rock close to the early pace set by massive longshot Hurricane J to the opening quarter-mile in :22.90. Hurricane J didn’t give in from the inside as Cave Rock, several paths off the rail, clicked off a half in :47.01.
Cave Rock shrugged off the pacesetter on the backstretch, went past 6 furlongs in 1:11.77 and set sail on the far turn. Ortiz, riding Forte for the fifth time, took on the leader once the field turned into the short stretch. Forte ranged up outside the final sixteenth, took command and powered home to win in 1:43.06. Cave Rock held second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of stablemate National Treasure with Champagne Stakes winner Blazing Sevens fourth.
Forte’s no-doubt victory was a departure from his more workmanlike neck score over Loggins in the Breeders’ Futurity. The Violence colt came from off the pace in both but slugged it out with the runner-up through the lane of that victory.
“The one thing I think he learned from the Breeders’ Futurity, Irad said he felt like he had a lot more horse,” Pletcher said. “He kind of was laying in on the horse next to him, so he said if we’re fortunate enough to have horse to get to the wire he wanted to stay clear.”
Forte’s victory gave runners that competed in Saratoga’s signature 2-year-old stakes – the Hopeful and Grade 1 Spinaway – victories on Future Stars Friday after Wonder Wheel won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Second to Leave No Trace in the Spinaway, Wonder Wheel got revenge Friday as Leave No Trace settled for second at 26-1. Like Forte, Wonder Wheel tuned up for the Breeders’ Cup with a win at Keeneland, in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades.
“It showed in the two juveniles today that it doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure,” Pletcher said of a prep over the track before the Breeders’ Cup.
The wins by Forte and Wonder Wheel were the only two for the Americans as Europeans dominated the three grass stakes on the card.
Godolphin’s Mischief Magic started the big day for the overseas team with a victory over fellow European Lady Hollywood in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. Meditate kept things rolling for Coolmore with a dominating victory over Pleasant Passage in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The Coolmore flag flew again in the finale as Victoria Road edged Godolphin’s Silver Knott by a nose in the Juvenile Turf.
Notes: Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup reported record all-sources handle for the Future Stars Friday card – $66,141,766 for the 10 races and a 7 percent increase from last year’s Friday handle of $61,696,893 at Del Mar. … Friday’s on-track attendance was 39,851. On-track handle was $7,504,265.