LEXINGTON, Ky. — Forte’s last start over a mile was impressive enough that trainer Todd Pletcher wasn’t too shocked at what he achieved in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, or the way he did it.
Forte served notice as an early Kentucky Derby favorite, rallying from mid-pack to overtake Cave Rock and win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 1 1/2 lengths on Friday at Keeneland. His fourth victory in five starts comes just over a month after he won the Breeders’ Futurity at the track by a neck.
Pletcher’s colt went off as a 4-1 choice in the 1 1/16-mile race but had work to do running in the middle on the backstretch. Forte quickly made his charge through the 10-horse field and got off the rail to close in on Bob Baffert-trained Cave Rock, the 4-5 favorite, and the leaders by the final turn.
“The last time, he made the lead pretty comfortably,” Pletcher said of Forte. “But he got to waiting and laying on the horse next to him, so today, if we were lucky enough to get in a position to get (the lead), we wanted to give ourselves plenty of space and not get close to the horse next to him.”
Forte turned it on entering the stretch, racing past Cave Rock at the eighth pole to claim his third consecutive victory as a 2-year-old, perhaps solidifying his credentials for Horse of the Year honors. Mike Repole, whose stable co-owns the horse with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola, was giddy over his good fortune, just five months after he won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal.
“My whole family thinks you just show up and you win a Grade 1 (race) and that that’s normal,” he said. “I’m not fooled about how blessed I am that this is happening.”
Wonder Wheel preceded Forte’s rally with one of her own in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, and in more dramatic fashion.
The dark bay filly surged past Leave No Trace in the final furlong for a three-length victory. It was her fourth win in five starts, including last month’s Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, with a second and likely sealed her claim as the top 2-year-old female.
“She didn’t break very well,” jockey Tyler Gaffalione said of her 1 1/16-mile trip in 1:44.9. “I got pushed back a little further than I wanted to be. … Spots kept opening up inside so I just going forward and it just worked out.”
The $1 million Juvenile Turf capped the five-race stakes card with its most exciting ending, as Victoria Road nosed past Silver Knott after running three-wide at the top of the stretch. It looked like a dead heat at the wire before a photo finish showed the Irish-bred colt eking out his fourth consecutive victory with a head bob. Curly Larry and Mo was the early pace setter before finishing 14th.
“I thought in the lane he had won,” jockey Ryan Moore said. “And when the out rider was saying it was close, I was pretty sure he held on.”
Mischief Magic came on late to earn a one-length victory over Dramatised in the $1 million Turf Sprint. Meditate had it a little easier in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, beating Pleasant Passage by 2½ lengths.
The championship went off on a clear, sunny day at the picturesque track in the heart of Bluegrass horse country. The grandstands were filled, a huge difference from the 2020 running without spectators because of the COVID-19 pandemic.