The Triple Crown didn’t work out as planned, but Forte still controls his destiny in three-year-old division over the second half of the season. And Saturday’s gutsy win in the $485,000 Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga indicates he will be a major player.
Over a sloppy track, Forte had to force his way out of tight quarters in upper stretch, bumping repeatedly with Angel of Empire, and summoned his courage to run down pacesetter Saudi Crown, getting up by a nose in a head-bobbing photo finish.
“He loves the game,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s always been that way, he’s always trained super. He’s very competitive in the afternoons, he’s an intelligent horse.”
Owned by Mike Repole, Forte completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.61. Stewards conducted an inquiry into the stretch run, but ruled no change to the order.
Irad Ortiz Jr. guided the 3-4 favorite, and Forte added blinkers Saturday.
“He’s had success on a wet track before, I wasn’t worried about him handling the footing,” Pletcher said. “I thought he broke pretty alertly, got into a good spot. We knew who would be on the lead, we weren’t sure who might be second or third. We were bottled up in there for quite a while, but it seemed like he was travelling pretty well.
“I thought he put himself in the first part of the race. Irad said he thought (the blinkers) left him pretty focused and he wasn’t too headstrong with them. I think they made a positive change without being overwhelming.”
Next comes a showdown with Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage in the $1.25 million Travers (G1) on Aug. 26. Forte defeated Mage in the Florida Derby (G1), but was ruled out of the Kentucky Derby by veterinarians due to a foot bruise. The son of Violence came back from a 10-week layoff to finish second in the Belmont S. (G1) on June 10.
“His record is fantastic without blinkers, but we just felt like the middle of the (far) turn in the Belmont compromised his chances of winning,” Pletcher said. “In the Florida Derby, he did the same thing but he was able to overcome it. We felt like this was the race to give them a try.”
Saudi Crown, off as the 7-2 second choice for Brad Cox in his second stakes attempt, showed speed from the gate, leading by about a length through opening splits in :23.93, :48.10, and 1:12.30. Forte saved ground while tracking the speed in tandem with Angel of Empire, and the duo edged closer on the far turn.
Forte angled out for running room after straightening for home, making contact with Angel of Empire, but the dark bay colt still had work to do as Saudi Crown determinedly kept driving on a short lead while drifting out in the stretch.
“You’re the one with a target on you back and you’ve got another stable with three horses in there,” Pletcher said. “We were expecting some race tactics. I think once he was able to get himself in the clear and the horse on the lead (Saudi Crown) kept drifting out, out, out and maybe into the eight path at one point. Irad said that compromised him a little bit from moving forward sooner.”
Forte surged late to get up on the wire. Saudi Crown held second by a half-length over Angel of Empire. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Disarm, who closed from last to reach a threatening position in upper stretch but lacked the necessary rally. Hit Show, the third runner from the Cox barn, weakened to be a well-beaten fifth.
Bred in Kentucky by South Gate Farm, Forte is the first foal to start from the multiple stakes-winning Blame mare Queen Caroline. Repole purchased him for $110,000 as a yearling at the 2020 Keeneland September sale.
Forte was named champion two-year-old male following wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Hopeful (G1), and he opened his sophomore campaign with an easy victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2). A winner in seven of nine starts, Forte has now earned $2,954,830.