Victoria Road, (L), with Ryan Moore up, comes from the outside to nose out Silver Knott, ridden by William Buick, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf race at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., on Friday. Photo by Mark Abraham/UPI | License Photo
LEXINGTON, Ky., Nov 4 (UPI) -- Forte and Wonder Wheel took the early favorite roles for the 2023 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks with impressive victories Saturday in the Breeders' Cup juvenile features at Keeneland.
Meanwhile, the European invaders swept all before them in the turf races on the "Stars of Tomorrow" day for 2-year-olds at the Breeders' Cup World Championships.
The Euros are likely to go home to compete in England, Ireland and the Continent in the coming spring. The Americans are looking to the first weekend in May at Churchill Downs.
Forte was doubly impressive in the $2 million Grade I FanDuel Breeders' Cup Juvenile, defeating well-backed favorite Cave Rock by 1 1/2 lengths with a professional move through the stretch.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. kept Forte safely behind an early pace battle between California invader Cave Rock and an ambitious long shot. When that battle had taken its toll, Ortiz gave Forte has cue and the Violence colt responded like a veteran.
Cave Rock, trained by Bob Baffert, battled on to finish second, with National Treasure a long-shot third.
Forte now has won three straight Grade I races for trainer Todd Pletcher, taking the Hopeful at Saratoga and the Breeders' Futurity over the Keeneland track Oct. 8.
Part-owner Mike Repole credited Ortiz and trainer Todd Pletcher, saying Ortiz is "5 lengths ahead" of the rest of the talented U.S. jockey roster this year. He also said the experience of funning at Keeneland was important.
"It's one of the reasons we ran here" in the Futurity, he said.
Where does he go from here? "Wherever the Eclipse Awards are handed out this year," Repole said as Forte is a cinch to win the statue symbolizing the champion of the 2-year-old division.
But he also gave his rival a shout out. "Cave Rock's numbers are incredible," Repole said. "But it's the first time he's shipping halfway across the country."
While Forte's trip was a smooth one, Wonder Wheel had obstacles to overcome.
Wonder Wheel, with Tyler Gaffalione up for trainer Mark Casse, was shuffled back at the start in the $ 2 million NetJets Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, worked her way through traffic and closed stoutly through the stretch to win by 3 lengths over Leave No Trace with Raging Sea third.
"Things didn't go to plan," Gaffalione said. We wanted to be more forwardly placed."
Casse added, "Two-year-olds don't do that -- come from that far out of it to win. When we went through the first turn that far back, I though, 'Oh boy. This is not good.' On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is absolute class, she's a 10."
Wonder Wheel, a Kentucky-bred filly by Into Mischief out of the Tiz Wonderful mare Wonder Gal, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.90, scoring her fourth win from five starts.
She prepped for the Breeders' Cup with a win in the Grade I Alcibiades over the same course and distance Oct. 7 and earlier in the year won twice at Churchill Downs, auguring well for her chances in next year's Oaks.
The day's championship races kicked off with a European flavor as Godolphin's Mischief Magic came down the center of the course to catch Dramatised in the final sixteenth in the $1 million Grade I Juvenile Turf Sprint, winning by 1 length.
Both are based in England and top European jockeys William Buick and Ryan Moore finished first and second. The favorite, Love Reigns, never fired and finished eighth as Mischief Magic, an Exceed and Excel colt, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.41.
Michief Magic's trainer, Charlie Appleby, opined before the weekend races that European juveniles would have an edge over American-based runners as they've had more experience.
In fact, Mischief Magic came into the race the winner of three of five previous starts. Private Creed, who finished third and best of the locals, was making his fifth start with three wins to his credit.
Appleby said the winner, who got his first top-level win, "put himself in the picture" for the Commonwealth Cup at next year's Royal Ascot meeting.
The Euro magic continued in the $1 million Grade I Juvenile Fillies Turf as Moore guided the favorite, Meditate, to a stretch-running, 2 1/2-length victory over Pleasant Passage.
Meditate, an Irish-bred filly by No Nay Never, trained by Aidan O'Brien for the Coolmore connections, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.38.
Like Mischief Magic, Meditate came to Keeneland with plenty of foundation after six previous starts. She won four of those and finished second in each of her last two, both Group 1 events.
The day's final race, the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, again came down to a thrilling finish between Moore and Buick, riding Victoria Road and Silver Knott, respectively.
Both came from off the pace to with Silver Knott slipping through on the rail to take a brief lead, only to be caught in the final strides by Silver Knott, who rolled outside rivals.
Victoria Road, an Irish-bred colt by the Japanese-bred sire Saxon Warrior, won by a nose while running 1 mile in 1:35.99. He struggled to get into the win column, finally breaking through in his fifth start but now has won four straight races.
O'Brien and Moore said the speed influence of Saxon Warrior had them expecting sprint ability from Victoria Road. "But, as he's gone up in trip, he's got better," Moore said.
"After his last race at Chantilly," O'Brien said, "Ryan said to me he's a French Derby horse for next year."
O'Brien and Moore now have won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf five times.