The connections of scratched Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite Forte were able to celebrate a big win Saturday at Churchill Downs after all, thanks to Up to the Mark in the $1 million Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic (G1).
Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, and piloted by Irad Ortiz Jr., Up to the Mark exploded from off the pace to earn his first stakes win in devastating style. The lightly-raced son of Not This Time looked like a different horse when switched from dirt to turf this winter at Gulfstream Park, and his recent third in a stakes-record Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland was full of promise.
In light of that encouraging stakes debut, where he was just a neck off champion Modern Games, Up to the Mark was bet down to 2.63-1 favoritism on Derby Day. The four-year-old made that look like value by dominating a field of veterans.
Bye Bye Melvin strode to the fore from his outside post and smoothly angled over through an opening quarter in :23.91 on the firm course. Santin, the defending champion, kept close tabs through splits of :48.03 and 1:11.65. Turning for home, Santin upped the ante and grabbed the advantage upon straightening.
But Up to the Mark was just unwinding. From a comfortable position about midpack on the outside, he advanced on the far turn and simply blew past Santin down the lane. Slow-starting Hong Kong Harry offered a fine rally, only the winner was long gone, and in a league of his own.
Up to the Mark bolted up by 3 3/4 lengths while completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.31. His resume now reads 9-4-0-2, and he boosted his bankroll to $829,550.
Hong Kong Harry was best of the rest, 1 1/4 lengths clear of Spooky Channel, who headed Ocean Atlantique for third. Santin wilted to fifth, trailed by Wolfie’s Dynaghost, Earls Rock, and Bye Bye Melvin. Master Piece and Steady On were scratched.
Bred by Ramspring Farm in Kentucky, Up to the Mark was produced by the Ghostzapper mare Belle’s Finale, a full sister to Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Zapper Belle. Up to the Mark’s second dam is Grade 1 heroine Capote Belle, who is also the ancestress of multiple Grade 2-winning turfiste Catapult.
The bay sold for $450,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, but had proven disappointing after a debut win in the Saratoga slop last summer. Up to the Mark couldn’t crack the trifecta in a series of entry-level allowances, until the brainstorm to try him on turf.