Forte Strong 7 -5 Favorite for Saturday’s G2 Fountain of Youth
Pletcher-trained Champion Tops 10-Horse Field in 2023 Debut
Curlin Florida Derby Prep Tops 9 Stakes worth $1.85M
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte is slated to make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park, seeking to build on his championship juvenile season.
The 2022 Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion is the 7-5 .morning-line favorite for the 1 1/16-mile stakes for sophomores, which will headline a program with nine stakes, including eight graded stakes, worth $1.85 Million in purses.
First-race post time for the 14-race Fountain of Youth program is set for 11 a.m.
The Fountain of Youth, the dress rehearsal for the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) April 1 at Gulfstream, offers 100 qualifying points for this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), with 50 points going to the winner, 20 to the runner-up, 15 to the third-place finisher, 10 to the fourth-place finisher, and 5 to the fifth-place finisher.
Forte is scheduled to meet nine rivals in the 76th running of the Fountain of Youth while making his first start since clinching the 2-year-old title with a 1 ½-length victory over heavily favorite Cave Rock in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland.
“He seems to be thriving right now,” said Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher before Forte drew the No. 4 post position Saturday afternoon. “I hope he can continue on that trajectory. We’re super-pleased with the way he’s coming into the race.”
Forte won four of five starts during his championship juvenile season that was 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).
“Physically, he’s done well. He’s put on some weight. He’s always been a leggy colt, so I wouldn’t say he’s grown height-wise, but he has filled out. He reminds me of his sire,” said Pletcher, who trained Violence, a Grade 1 winner who finished second, a half-length behind Orb, in the 2013 Fountain of Youth (G2), the last career start. “He’s a super intelligent colt, very easy to train, very straightforward. He’s very willing when you want him to be..”
Having built a solid foundation while gaining extensive race experience during his juvenile season, Forte is scheduled for two starts leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
“That afforded us a little time for him to freshen up. With that type of seasoning, I’m very comfortable with two races leading up, hopefully, to the Derby,” Pletcher said. “We’ve approached it from various angles and felt like this was the right path for him. So far everything has been going to plan. Hopefully, it continues to do that.”
Pletcher has saddled three Fountain of Youth winners – Itsaknockout (2016), Eskendereya (2010) and Scat Daddy (2007), who went on to give his trainer one of his record six victories in the Florida Derby.
Irad Ortiz Jr., who was aboard for Forte’s five races last season, has the return call for the Fountain of Youth.
Frank Fletcher Racing Operations Inc.’s Rocket Can (Post No. 8; 8-1) enters the Fountain of Youth off a gutsy half-length victory in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the son of Into Mischief raced considerably wide thorough the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull but kicked in through the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length under Junior Alvarado in his 2023 debut.
“The first race back down here wasn’t that hard on him, and he seems to have recovered fairly well,” Mott said. “A lot of times the first race will tire them out a little, but he seems to come back good, so hopefully he moves forward a little more.”
Alvarado expressed admiration for Rocket Can’s performance in the face of adversity.
“I was very pleased with that race. He won, and a lot of people say it was a slow number here and there. But if you actually pay attention to the race, I was probably seven, eight-wide on the first turn and then turning for home it was probably the same thing,” Alvarado said. “I was four, five, six-wide, and for a baby going two turns and having to give up that much ground, it has to take a toll. I thought he was very game at the end. I’m pretty pleased with him.”
Peachtree Stable’s Shadow Dragon is also scheduled to represent the Mott stable in the Fountain of Youth after closing fast to finish second in the Holy Bull, just a half-length behind Rocket Can. A New York-bred son of Army Mule had previously won his debut and finished off-the-board against state-breds at Aqueduct last fall.
Jose Ortiz has retained the mount aboard Shadow Dragon.
Rodeo Creek Racing LLC’s Blazing Sevens, who finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after encountering trouble at the start, is scheduled to take on Forte again while making his 2023 debut in the Fountain of Youth. The Chad Brown-trained son of Good Magic captured the mile Champagne (G1) at Aqueduct prior to the Juvenile. Blazing Sevens won impressively at first asking at Saratoga before finishing 12 lengths behind Forte while finishing third in the Hopeful (G1).
Joel Rosario has the call on Blazing Sevens, who is rated second in the morning line at 7-2.
Courtlandt Farms’ General Jim, who recovered from early bumping to capture the seven-furlong Claiborne Swale (G3) on the Holy Bull undercard, is scheduled to stretch out around two turns in the Fountain of Youth, for which he drew the No. 1 post position.
The son of Into Mischief, won twice and finished third in a stakes around two turn on turf in New York last year. General Jim, who lacked room while finishing fourth in his 3-year-old debut in the Jan. 1 Mucho Macho Man, raced with blinkers for the first time in the Swale.
Luis Saez has the return call on General Jim, who is rated third at 6-1.
Albaugh Family Stables LLC’s Cyclone Mischief, the beaten Holy Bull favorite while coming off a stunning optional claiming allowance win at Gulfstream; Daniel Walters, Devin Smith, Anthony Smith and trainer Rohan Crichton’s Legacy Isle,, whose three-race undefeated streak was snapped with a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull; OGMA Investments LLC, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH’s Mage, an eye-catching debut winner for trainer Gustavo Delgado; Palm Beach Racing V LLC’s Dangerous Ride, a multiple stakes-placed optional claiming allowance winner last time out; and Alex Andres LLC’s Il Miracolo, who was out-of-the money in the Mucho Macho Man and Holy Bull, round out the field.