The Week in Review: Forte’s Dominance was Expected, but Practical Move Truly Impressed

‘TDN Rising Star’ Forte (Violence)’s dominant sophomore debut in Saturday’s GII Fountain of Youth S. at Gulfstream is understandably going to generate glowing headlines because of his kingpin status as the comebacking divisional champion. But that sharp win shouldn’t overshadow the thoroughly convincing GII San Felipe S. score by Practical Move (Practical Joke) t Santa Anita, which on its own terms was emphatic enough to merit a significant reshuffling of the deck of GI Kentucky Derby contenders.

The Fountain of Youth S. has evolved into somewhat of a “trap” race for high-profile 3-year-olds, with 12 of the last 16 favorites going down to defeat prior to this year’s running. In fact, 10 years ago, one of those odds-on losers was Forte’s sire, the then-undefeated Violence. He lost the 2013 edition by a half-length to eventual Kentucky Derby winner Orb, but Violence sustained a right front sesamoid fracture that necessitated his retirement after only four races.

Forte, of course, had no idea he was up against a historical trend that featured a familial plot twist when the starter sprung the latch Saturday. He had a clean break and tracked the action fifth into the first turn, racing while into the bit and eager to close gaps on the heels of the frontrunners through opening quarter-mile splits of :24.05 and :23.60.

Irad Ortiz, Jr., was able to dial back Forte’s enthusiasm a touch while settling into a rhythmic stride down the back straight, and true to the tactics this colt displayed at age two, Forte asserted his presence while giving the impression he was sizing up the leaders and had them well within his striking sights.

Entering the far bend, Ortiz mulled his options for about a sixteenth of a mile, which is a tactical luxury a jockey enjoys only when he knows he has a willing partner who can take off like a rocket with just a subtle flick of the wrists.

As the 15-1 pacemaker Cyclone Mischief (Into Mischief) got softened up by first and second runs from two stalkers through a third-quarter split of :24.19, Forte inhaled the three of them at the head of the lane with an all-in move that left him only three-sixteenths of a mile to fully unwind over Gulfsttream’s short-stretch configuration.

Forte responded to Ortiz’s rousing, but the jockey quickly sensed his mount didn’t need much in the way of aggressive encouragement. Under his own power, Forte leveled off with a brief but discernible burst of late-race acceleration that put him 4 1/2 lengths clear of the leaders at the wire. The final-quarter split was :24.90 and the last sixteenth was :6.38 for a 1:43.12 finish and a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

That Beyer represents a two-point regression from the 100 Forte earned when winning last November’s GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable.

But Forte was geared down in the late stages of the Fountain of Youth when it was obvious that a winning outcome had been assured, and his more-in-the-tank performance was visually strong enough that it doesn’t make sense to quibble over numbers in this instance.

Meanwhile, on the Left Coast…

Practical Move had already done a little avenging on behalf of his sire, Practical Joke, by winning the GII Los Alamitos Futurity back in December. That’s because, despite being a top contender on the 2017 Derby trail, Practical Joke never won a two-turn race (although he did rack up a trio of Grade I victories up to one mile around one turn).

Yet bettors weren’t too keen Saturday that his son, Practical Move, could win again over 1 1/16 miles in the San Felipe, letting this Tim Yakteen trainee go off as the 4-1 fourth choice coming off a three-month layoff. But a heady ride by Ramon Vazquez drove home the fact that this colt is swiftly rising through the ranks as a dangerous Derby commodity.

Breaking from post two, Practical Move brushed the gate, then absorbed some minor bumping from the horse down to his inside. Unfazed, he took up the chase while fourth through the first turn, hugging the rail. He remained unruffled with a rank rival to his outside, then willingly accepted a rating hold by Vazquez as the field cornered onto the backstretch.

Once the field hit the back straightaway, the riders avoided the rail like it was strung with barbed wire. Of the nine, Practical Move was closest to the inside, in the three path. The pace was honest, with quarter-mile splits of :23.14 and :23.98 for the first half mile. Vazquez edged his mount up incrementally–a nice display of grace under pressure–and Practical Move was jointly second 3 1/2 furlongs out.

But then the inside passage tightened up, and Vazquez had to take hold of Practical Move for a few crucial strides. The leader, Hejazi (Bernardini), still looked strong at that point, and two other horses were launching bids in the clear on the outside.

In an instant, Practical Move got relegated back to fourth. It was the type of positioning misfortune that costs races, and when you’re trying to make the cut in a crucial Derby qualifying stakes, it can cost you an entire campaign.

Yet Vazquez never panicked, nor did Practical Move shy from his tight inside spot. Hejazi was soon spent, and he showed it by drifting out to the four path at the head of the lane after a robust third-quarter split in :23.96.

Practical Move deftly cut the corner when that seam opened, and he was as good as gone, kicking home under light encouragement to win with purpose by 2 1/2 lengths.

The final-quarter split was :24.59 and his final sixteenth was clocked in :6.34.

Owned in partnership by Leslie Amestoy, Jean Pierre Amestoy, Jr., and Roger Beasley, Practical Move earned a 100 on the Beyer scale, upping his Los Al Futurity number by 12 points.

There have now been 15 points-earning Derby qualifying stakes at 1 1/16 miles on dirt in 2022-23, and Practical Move owns the two fastest final clockings: 1:41.65 in the Los Al Futurity and 1:42.10 in the San Felipe.

Also Noteworthy…

Now that favorites have won the Fountain of Youth S. the past three years, the companion filly stakes on the same afternoon, the GII Davona Dale S., has become the ‘bombs away” race on the first Saturday in March. The $95.40 win by Dorth Vader (Girvin) in this season’s renewal was preceded by upset winners who paid $107.60 and $105.00 in 2021 and 2019…Interesting that Davona Dale herself only raced twice at Gulfstream. But the champion 3-year-old filly of 1979 did start her eight-race sophomore win streak there in the Bonnie Miss S., a run that included five Grade I victories before she lost at 1-5 odds in the GI Alabama S. at Saratoga. In a training move filed under the “you’ll never see this again” category, Davona Dale then gallantly wheeled right back against colts in the GI Travers S. one week later, only to finish fourth.

The 2022 GI Kentucky Oaks winner, Secret Oath (Arrogate) will have a new jockey for her 4-year-old debut in Oaklawn’s GII Azeri S. Saturday. Luis Saez, who has been aboard Secret Oath in her last six starts, is committed to pilot ‘TDN Rising Star’ Tapit Trice (Tapit) in the GIII Tampa Bay Derby, so trainer D. Wayne Lukas has named Tyler Gaffalione to ride. “Luis has got a [Kentucky] Derby prospect that he’s really high on and didn’t want to give it up. He really agonized over that decision, but he’s afraid that he might lose [the call on Tapit Trice]. He’s going to try to talk me into putting him back on. If Tyler rides a big race, he’ll have a little trouble getting back on,” Lukas said

Here’s wishing Hawthorne Race Course good luck with trying out a nationwide-low 12% takeout on win, place and show bets at the six-month meet that started Sunday. During the first three months of the season, Hawthorne will be racing on Sundays and Thursdays with a 2:30 p.m. Central first post.

“By shifting Saturday racing to Thursday in the spring, we will face less competition on the national scene while being able to make Hawthorne a more visible track to the wagering public,” said the track’s racing director, Jim Miller.

Yes, it’s the first week of March, and we already have two North American horses with perfect 5-for-5 records on the new season. Dulcimer Dame (Mineshaft), a 6-year-old Charles Town-based mare who races at the starter-allowance level, roared home by 5 1/2 lengths as the 1-5 fave in Saturday’s eighth race at the West Virginia oval. She races for owner Richard Burnsworth and trainer Anthony Farrior. Earlier on Mar. 4, the Arizona-stabled Metarose (Metaboss) necked out a 3-2 favored win in a Turf Paradise starter-allowance. The 5-year-old mare is campaigned by owner Miguel Gallegos and trainer Miguel Hernandez.

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