Forte breezes in preparation for G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets | NYRA
May 21, 2023
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Forte breezes in preparation for G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets

by NYRA Press Office

  • Forte breezes in preparation for G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets
  • Arcangelo still on fence for G1 Belmont Stakes
  • Mistical Curlin registers 106BSF in 19-length maiden score
  • Eye Witness likely bound for G3 Manila; Funtastic Again could target G1 Belmont Derby Invitational

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte breezed Sunday over the Belmont Park dirt training track in his first workout since scratching on the morning of the May 6 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby as the morning-line favorite.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher and piloted in the breeze by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the son of Violence worked in company with New York-bred stakes winner Let Her Inspire U, covering a half-mile over the muddy going in 50.31 seconds. 

“It looked super. I'm really pleased with the way he went. He was well in hand throughout and galloped out nicely,” Pletcher said. “We were playing it by ear with the weather, but the training track dried out nicely.”

Ortiz, Jr. won the Grade 3 Gallorette aboard Whitebeam on Saturday’s Preakness card in Baltimore and guided Blazing Sevens to a close runner-up finish in the featured Grade 1 event won by National Treasure.

“Irad is a dedicated young man,” Pletcher said. “He drove back last night so he could be here this morning. He had a huge smile on his face afterwards and his comment to me was - 'this made my day.'”

Forte entered the Kentucky Derby at the top of the leaderboard with 190 points that he accrued for victories in November at Keeneland in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby this spring. He boasts a record of 7-6-0-0 with total purse earnings in excess of $2.4 million.

Pursuant to HISA Rule 2241(a), Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby due to a bruised right front foot. In order to be successfully removed from the list he will have to breeze in front of a regulatory veterinarian and produce a negative blood sample result following that work which generally takes five days to be returned.

Pletcher said the required breeze for the vet could take place on Friday.

“He's in excellent condition and doing well here at Belmont,” Pletcher said. “We got that first breeze in that we were looking for and he's scheduled to come back and breeze again on Friday if conditions permit. We'll come back with a five-furlong move on the main track and continue on towards the Belmont.”

Pletcher said he was disappointed not to be able to showcase Forte’s talents in the Derby.

“I feel bad for the connections and for the horse not getting the opportunity to run in the Derby, but the timing was bad and we just have to turn the page and move on,” Pletcher said. “I'm just thankful the horse is doing great and we're looking forward to running in the Belmont.”

Pletcher could have as many as four Belmont Stakes starters, including his Derby runners Tapit Trice [7th] for owners Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, and Spendthrift Farm’s Kingsbarns [14th]. Also under consideration is Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Prove Worthy, a Curlin chestnut who graduated at third asking traveling 10-furlongs on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

Tapit Trice worked a half-mile in 49.04 Friday over Big Sandy.

“Tapit Trice breezed very well on Friday and Kingsbarns will probably breeze this Friday,” Pletcher said.

Prove Worthy, out of the graded-stakes placed First Samurai mare Endless Chatter, was purchased for $325,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

"He handled the stretch out to a mile and a quarter really well,” Pletcher said. “He's one we always thought would continue to improve as he matures and the distance is something he would be capable of getting. He's light on experience, so we'll play it by ear and see how the field is shaping up before making any decisions there."

Entries for the 155th Belmont Stakes will be taken on Tuesday, June 6. Among the other possible starters are Grade 1 Arkansas Derby-winner Angel of Empire [Brad Cox], Grade 3 Peter Pan-winner Arcangelo [Jena Antonucci], Sir Barton-winner Arabian Lion [Bob Baffert]; Grade 3 Withers-winner Hit Show [Cox], Grade 1 Preakness-winner National Treasure [Baffert], Grade 3 Gotham-winner Raise Cain [Ben Colebrook]; multiple graded stakes-placed Red Route One [Steve Asmussen]; and Grade 2 Risen Star runner-up Sun Thunder [Ken McPeek].

The Belmont Stakes headlines the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that features a total of 16 stakes events from Thursday, June 8 through Saturday, June 10. For additional information on the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and details on hospitality offerings, ticket packages and pricing, visit


Arcangelo still on fence for G1 Belmont Stakes

Blue Rose Farm’s Arcangelo, winner of the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 13 at Belmont Park, is still undecided for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 10 according to trainer Jena Antonucci, who said the son of Arrogate continues to thrive at Belmont after his strong head victory over Bishops Bay.

“He’s doing super and he’s happy – all good stuff,” said Antonucci.

Should Arcangelo’s connections decide to run the colt in the prestigious “Test of the Champion,” they would need to supplement him to the race for $50,000 as he is not nominated to the Triple Crown. Antonucci said she would like to see Arcangelo train a bit more before making a decision on his next start.

“We haven’t decided yet,” said Antonucci. “We’ll see how he trains up and how he breezes and we’ll make a decision. I would need to see his normal, naughty behavior.”

Antonucci added that Arcangelo typically breezes about 10 days out from his intended races.


Mistical Curlin registers 106BSF in 19-length maiden score

Mistical Curlin splashed to an eye-catching 19-length maiden score to close out Saturday’s rain-soaked 11-race card at Belmont Park.

Trained and co-owned by Gustavo Rodriguez with Andrew Gurdon and Anil Poyah, the 4-year-old Curlin colt broke alertly under Jose Lezcano and was hustled to the lead in the one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and upward.

The chestnut marked off splits of 22.68 seconds and 45.90 over the sloppy and sealed main track while racing wide down the backstretch before angling in through the turn and opening up by 5 1/2-lengths after three-quarters in 1:10.84. Mistical Curlin enjoyed a 12-length advantage at the stretch call and was kept to task by Lezcano as he graduated at twelfth asking in a final time of 1:35.90.

“He was training very good. He ended up running good and he was loving the slop, too,” said Rodriguez, who is the older brother of fellow Belmont-based trainer Rudy Rodriguez.

Mistical Curlin, the second longest shot on the board at 11-1, returned $25.40 for a $2 win bet and triggered a Pick 6 carryover as the only uncovered combatant in the six-horse field.

Rodriguez said he noted a potential trend late in Saturday’s card which saw five wire-to-wire winners in the final seven races.

“We were watching all the races yesterday and if you broke on top and stay there, they win,” Rodriguez said. “So, I said to Lezcano, 'let's try to break good and if you get the lead and get comfortable then stay there. If someone tries to hook you, then stay back.' But he broke like a rocket. He ran beautiful.”

The $375,000 purchase from the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase is out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Game Plan mare Mistical Plan, who won the 2008 Grade 1 Princess Rooney at Calder Race Course. Mistical Plan posted a record of 18-5-1-2 for purse earnings of $816,790, racing exclusively in stakes company following her debut maiden score in August 2006 at Santa Rosa. She also captured the 2007 Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks en route to a prominent fifth-place finish in that year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks – her lone start over off going - won by Rags to Riches.

Mistical Curlin was haltered for $20,000 at sixth asking out of a runner-up effort in a nine-furlong maiden tilt at Saratoga Race Course. He has hit the board in two other starts since while Rodriguez developed the colt, who he said has overcome bleeding issues.

“We always look for horses to claim and one of my owners, Anil Poyah, asked me to look at the horse,” said Rodriguez, who oversees a stable that fluctuates between 15-20 horses. “We took a look and ended up dropping on him and we got lucky - it was a four-way shake.”

Rodriguez said Mistical Curlin exited his memorable maiden win in good order and will target a starter allowance event next.

“He can run a mile to a mile and an eighth with no problem,” Rodriguez said. “He's a big, beautiful horse. He ran big, so we're going to give him at least four or five weeks.”


Eye Witness likely bound for G3 Manila; Funtastic Again could target G1 Belmont Derby Invitational

Trainer Wesley Ward is hopeful that Saturday’s triumph in the $150,000 Paradise Creek is only the beginning of a prominent year for New York-bred Eye Witness, who registered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for a narrow victory over late-charging Inflation Nation in the seven-furlong test over a yielding Widener turf course at Belmont Park.

Piloted by Jose Ortiz, Eye Witness stalked the pace from a close fourth-to-fifth down the backstretch before angling wide around the far turn and establishing a 1 1/2-length advantage at the stretch call. Multiple stakes-placed Inflation Nation launched a menacing bid to his inside, but Eye Witness held on to win by a head in a final time of 1:25.32.

Eye Witness, bred in the Empire State by Anlyn Farms, entered the Paradise Creek off a pair of triumphs over Turfway Park’s all weather surface. Following a second out graduation going a two-turn mile on New Year’s Day, the son of second crop sire City of Light returned on March 25 to capture his stakes debut in the six-furlong Animal Kingdom by five lengths.

“I’m excited about this guy, he’s developed into a really nice colt,” Ward said. “He’s a big colt and, like his sire, he took a while to really get going. As time has gone by, he’s gotten better and better.”

Ward said the Grade 3, $250,000 Manila going one mile on July 7 at Belmont would likely be his next objective, followed by the Grade 2, $500,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course. Ward also mentioned the $125,000 Rick Violette for New York-breds on August 17 going 1 1/16 miles over the Spa turf as another possible landing spot.

“I’d like to get him going a mile," Ward said. "I think he’ll be better going two turns, and he is a New York-bred. I was looking at the Manila and, if he keeps progressing you would definitely want to look at the Hall of Fame as well. I’m looking at those two races.”

Owned by Westerberg, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Jonathan Poulin, Eye Witness was a $650,000 purchase at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Gracilia. He is a half-brother to stakes-winner More Mischief.

Ward saddled Three Chimneys Farm's Funtastic Again to a runner-up finish under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez in Saturday’s one mile James W. Murphy on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico Race Course.

The son of turf stayer Funtastic captured the Leonatus on January 21 at Turfway Park in frontrunning fashion before a distant third to eventual Kentucky Derby runner-up Two Phil’s in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 25 at the northern Kentucky oval.

Ward said the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational going 10 furlongs on July 8 is an appealing option for the chestnut sophomore.

“We’ll see how the race comes up and if we get invited,” Ward said. “If he’s in front and they’re going super slow early going a mile and quarter, mile and a half, he’ll be able to kick right on.”

Ward recalled Funtastic Again’s career debut last summer at Belmont, where he finished a distant seventh to eventual stakes winner Oxymore going six furlongs over the inner turf. He improved astronomically in his following effort through the Spa’s Wilson Chute in an off-the-turf one-mile maiden event, which he won by 6 1/2 lengths.

“I was so high on this horse going into his first race. His first race had me scratching my head because he had such great works,” Ward said. “I ran him in an off the turf maiden at Saratoga and he won. I always had wanted to get him back on the grass but was kind of scared to do it. When he showed that affinity for the all weather surface, I really thought he would like it, and he did. I asked Johnny after the race if he liked the grass and he told me he loved it. The second thing I asked him was, ‘How far do you think he’ll go?’ and Johnny said, ‘He’ll keep on running.’”

Ward compared Funtastic Again to dirt sprinting stablemate Nakatomi, who finished a late-rallying third in Saturday’s Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico.

“Both horses are pace determined. They might not be the best in the race, but sometimes they’re the best on the day,” Ward said.

Funtastic Again is out of the Broken Vow mare Repeta and is a half-brother to graded stakes-placed filly Lady Glamour. He was bought for $60,000 as a weanling from the 2020 Keeneland November Sale.

Looking ahead, Ward said he plans on sending Lael Stables’ Arrest Me Red to the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur on Belmont Stakes Day, June 10 and Gayla Rankin’s Happy Soul to the Grade 3, $200,000 Intercontinental on June 9.

A narrow second to Casa Creed in last year’s Jaipur, Arrest Me Red was a close third in the Grade 2 Shakertown on April 7 at Keeneland, where he broke from the outside in the 12-horse field under Joel Rosario. The 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile returned four weeks later to run fifth as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs.

Ward said the wide post was a deterrent in the Shakertown.

“Rosario had said he thought he was the best horse in the race, but he had to go a little wide,” Ward said. “He really ran a big race over a course that he doesn’t like that much. He’s had some good works and some okay works over this surface. Then, coming back in the race at Churchill the races were a little too close together. Now we have a good five weeks between races and I think that will really suit him.”

Happy Soul was a close fourth in the Giant’s Causeway on April 15 at Keeneland, where she finished 1 3/4 lengths behind victorious stable mate Twilight Gleaming. The daughter of medication free stallion Runhappy is a dual stakes winner on dirt and will make only her third start on grass in the Intercontinental. She captured the local Astoria in runaway fashion in June 2021 and captured Oaklawn Park’s Dixie Belle the following February, both going gate-to-wire under John Velazquez.

But Ward said the now 4-year-old Happy Soul has switched running styles and is looking for come-from-behind tactics with the bay filly.

“A lot of these horses on dirt show speed early on in their career and they just can’t carry it on and then when they switch to the grass, they can keep running,” Ward said. “Johnny has ridden this filly her whole life. I won the [Giant's Causeway] with Twilight Gleaming, who made one big run and that will be the plan moving forward in the Intercontinental. I want Johnny to go back and make one big run with her.”

Happy Soul was a $50,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the Stephen Got Even mare Cowgirl Lucky. 

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