Forte beats favorite Cave Rock to win Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

Lexington, Ky.

Twelve years after Uncle Mo, there was cause for celebration again with the face of a new equine racing generation representing the old New York guard of Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher.

His name is Forte. Yes, it is pronounced “for-tay,” the Italian word for force. And this 2-year-old colt gave co-owner Repole and trainer Pletcher their long-awaited second victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Sent off as the second choice on a beachy Friday evening, Forte (5-1) turned wide into the stretch, made the quick dash to the early finish line at Keeneland, collared heavy favorite Cave Rock (2-5) and ran on to a 1 1/2-length victory in the $2 million race that often comes with a division championship.

“Twelve years ago it started,” Repole said. “Uncle Mo won the Juvenile here. My friends and family were here 12 years ago. We didn’t know what that meant.”

At the time, the Vitaminwater baron was just getting his feet wet as a racing owner. After that triumph up the road at Churchill Downs, Uncle Mo was voted the champion 2-year-old male. Kentucky Derby dreams went awry, though, when Uncle Mo was scratched the day before the 2011 race because of a mysterious illness.

All these years later, Repole and Pletcher finally have their second Juvenile winner – and the new Kentucky Derby favorite. After Saturday’s victory, Caesars Sportsbook cut Forte from 40-1 to 10-1 in its futures book. Cave Rock, who had been 3-for-3 and was the 14-1 Derby favorite, drifted to 16-1.

“He ran a gallant race,” Cave Rock’s trainer Bob Baffert said. “He got beat by a good horse. … Forte ran a great race and came and got us.”

Friday’s race unfolded similarly to the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), which Forte won last month over the same 1 1/16-mile course baked dry by a never-ending drought. That victory was the rare exception to the speed-favoring rule for Keeneland’s main track this fall.

The early fractions set by Cave Rock in the Juvenile were 22.90, 47.01 and 1:11.77. Those compared with the 22.94, 46.36 and 1:11.63 established last month by Loggins in the Breeders’ Futurity. In both races, Forte closed from fifth to first.

“If you look at the first couple races (Friday) on the dirt, you would think it was just speed-favoring,” said Repole, who owns Forte in partnership with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable.

Then Repole took note of how Wonder Wheel came from 11th to win the Juvenile Fillies two races before Forte’s victory. That was on either side of the Juvenile Turf Sprint, the first grass race on Friday’s card.

“I don’t know what they did (to the main track) when they went to turf,” Repole said. “They went over it, whatever. (Wonder Wheel) came from way back, but she did stay on the rail the whole time.”

Winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr. also noticed, so he bided his time while Cave Rock and Hurricane J (70-1), who eventually finished seventh, battled most of the way up the backstretch for the lead. This time, as he did in the Breeders’ Futurity, Forte made a wide move out of the second turn. Again, it turned out to be a victorious move.

“I broke good, saved some ground around the first turn and took my time down the backside,” Ortiz said. “I started making my move around the turn. I hit him once, and he responded. He deserves all the credit.”

Pletcher said that response was part and parcel to what Forte learned in the Breeders’ Futurity.

“He got that two-turn experience,” he said. “It paid off today. He’s much more professional today. We learned a little something, and we tweaked off the last race, and it paid off coming here.”

Forte’s winning time was 1:43.06, and he paid $12.04, $3.76 and $2.64. Cave Rock returned $2.56 and $2.10. National Treasure, also trained by Baffert, finished third, 3 3/4 lengths behind Forte, and paid $3.16 to show.

Just because Cave Rock lost as a heavy favorite does not mean he will vanish from the Derby trail. Baffert said he saw room for improvement.

“He didn’t switch leads until way late,” he said. “He got tired, and that other horse came running. He ran a big race. There is a reason why he won three in a row. He’ll get a lot out of it.”

Bought as a yearling for $110,000, Forte is a Violence colt out of the Blame mare Queen Caroline. He was bred by South Gate Farm in Kentucky.

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