Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte made an auspicious 3-year-old debut Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where last year’s Eclipse Award-winning juvenile scored a dominating 4 ½-length victory in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2).
The 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds is a key prep for the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) on April 1, as well as a designated prep for the Kentucky Derby (G1). Forte earned 50 points for his tour de force performance, further cementing his status as favorite for this year’s first jewel of the Triple Crown with a total of 140 points.
The Fountain of Youth headlined a 14-race program with nine stakes, eight graded, worth $1.85 million in purses.
Forte was sent to post as the 1-2 favorite in the Fountain of Youth field that was reduced to nine upon the scratch of General Jim Saturday morning. Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher was even less surprised by the way Forte won the Fountain of Youth than the bettors who made the son of Violence their heavy favorite.
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“Honestly, I can’t say I was surprised,” Pletcher said. “I felt really, really good about the way this horse was coming into the race.”
Forte experienced light bumping leaving the gate but quickly recovered to get to the rail heading into the first turf, tracking pacesetter Cyclone Mischief, Dangerous Ride, Rocket Can and Mage. Jockey Irad Ortiz eased Forte off the rail along the backstretch as Cyclone Mischief continued to show the way while putting up fractions of 24.05 and 47.65 seconds for the first half mile. On the turn into the homestretch, Rocket Can, the Holy Bull (G3) winner ridden by Junior Alvarado, began to put heavy pressure on Cyclone Mischief with Mage hanging in there to their outside, as Ortiz swung Forte four-wide for the drive. The champion quickly asserted his superiority and drew clear to a comfortable victory.
Fountain of Youth Replay
“I had a beautiful trip; everything I expected happened,” Ortiz said. “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 3/8ths (pole); I went around horses and let him go and show what he can do.’
Making his first start since capturing the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, Forte ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43:12 without pressure.
“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.”
Forte won four of five starts during his championship juvenile season that he launched with a 7 ¾-length victory at Belmont Park last May. After finishing fourth in the six-furlong Sanford (G2), he rallied from off the pace to win the seven-furlong Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga. He polished off a stellar campaign with a pair of off-the-pace scores around two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“It looks like there’s a lot of upside,” said Pletcher, who had previously saddled three other Fountain of Youth winners – Itsaknockout (2016), Eskendereya (2010) and Scat Daddy (2007) – with Scat Daddy going on to give his trainer one of his record six victories in the Florida Derby.
Mike Repole, who owns Forte in partnership with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable, was obviously elated with his colt’s performance.
“It’s special. Very special. Very special. You know, for a horse making his first start in four months against other horses who have already raced this year, he does it with so much confidence,” Repole said. “It’s like everything you see – breaks well, sits well, moves well, looks great. He’s just checking all the boxes right now. He’s a pretty special horse right now.”
Rocket Can held second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Cyclone Mischief, to pick up 20 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, virtually assuring the Holy Bull winner a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with 60 total points.
“He ran big. He was a little sharp leaving there. He broke awfully sharp. He was a little geared up in the post parade. He was a little more wound up than I actually like to see him. I was hoping he wouldn’t get too excited, but he still looked like he ran his race,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “He looked like he held on well. He broke sharp, in good position, was tactical and ran well.”