Forte returned in fine order in Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, rallying from just off the pace to win by a 4 1/2-length margin, and the Kentucky Derby favorite has one prep remaining before he lines up for the first jewel of the Triple Crown at Churchill Downs on May 6.
The Todd Pletcher-trained colt left the starting gate as the 1-2 favorite with Irad Ortiz Jr., who has ridden in all six starts for Mike Repole and Vincent Viola’s St Elias Stable.
“He’s a nice horse,” Ortiz said. “He just came back from his two-year old (campaign). He just turned three and it is nice to see him back the way he did it today. I think the race is going to set him up for future races well for sure. I mean, he was ready today.”
“Honestly, I can’t say I was surprised,” Pletcher added. “I felt really, really good the way this horse was coming into the race. It looks like there’s a lot of upside.”
The 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth, a Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier awarding points on a 50-20-15-10-5 basis, has been the target for Forte since he wrapped up champion juvenile male honors in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last November, the third consecutive Grade 1 triumph for the dark bay.
A romping debut maiden winner at Belmont Park last May, Forte sustained his lone setback when third in the Sanford (G3) the second time out. He followed with victories in the Hopeful (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) before recording a 1 1/2-length decision in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.
The son of Violence easily leads the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 90 points.
Forte rated a close-up fifth as Cyclone Mischief sprinted forward at the break to show the way through opening splits in :24.05, :47.65, and 1:11.84. Holy Bull (G3) winner Rocket Can, the 6.70-1 fourth choice, tracked in second and took closer order on the far turn, drawing even with the pacesetter in upper stretch, but he proved no match for the oncoming Forte.
Angling four wide on the far turn, Forte surged past the top two while straightening for home, quickly drawing clear, and was taken in hand late. He was timed in 1:43.12.
“I had a beautiful trip,” Ortiz said. “Everything I expected happened. I wanted to get a good position forwardly placed. I was right behind the horse I had to be. I just bided my time to go, decided to wait a little more, two more jumps until the three-eighths (pole). I went around horses and let him go and show what he can do.”
Rocket Can proved second-best, 1 1/4 lengths better than Cyclone Mischief. It was another length to Mage in fourth, and Shadow Dragon, Il Miracolo, Dangerous Ride, Blazing Sevens, and Legacy Isle followed under the wire.
Bred in Kentucky by South Gate Farm, Forte was purchased for $110,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. He’s out of the multiple stakes-winning Blame mare Queen Caroline.
Forte will target either the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream on April 1 or the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland a week later for his final Kentucky Derby prep.
“We kind of carefully laid it out and put him in a program that would put him in the condition to be ready to run and still having room for improvement and room to continue to develop,” Pletcher said. “I think we were able to accomplish that (today).”
Davona Dale (G2)
Dorth Vader tracked a stiff pace to the top of the stretch and then took over in the $200,000 Davona Dale (G2), springing a massive upset in the three-year-old filly ranks. Easily the longest shot among eight rivals, Dorth Vader returned a $95.40 mutuel after scoring by 4 3/4 lengths.
Miguel Vasquez was up for Michael Yates on the Florida-bred daughter of Girvin, and Dorth Vader completed the one-turn mile in 1:37.23. The John Ropes homebred filly improved her career record to 7-4-0-1 while notching her third stakes win, capturing the restricted Juvenile Fillies Sprint at Gulfstream and open Sandpiper S. at Tampa Bay Downs in succession late last year. However, bettors overlooked the dark bay filly following a disappointing sixth as the favorite in the seven-furlong Gasparilla S. at Tampa in mid-January.
The Davona Dale offered 100 combined points to the top five (50-20-15-10-5) as a Road to the Kentucky Oaks series qualifier.
Guns n’ Graces, away at 28-1 after a convincing maiden win at Tampa the second time out in late December, came flying late for Joel Rosario and Chad Brown to be a clear second, 2 1/4 lengths better than Red Carpet Ready, who held on by a neck for third as the 1.10-1 favorite and established early splits in :23.01, :45.06, and 1:10.02.
Infinite Diamond came next in fourth, and Lynx, Positano Sunset, Undervalued Asset, and Leave No Trace completed the order.
Dorth Vader is the first stakes winner from the stakes-placed Yonaguska mare Hardcore Candy. Third when trying two turns in the My Dear Girl division of the Florida Sire series last fall, she’s eligible to stretch back to two turns for the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) on April 1.