Annapolis, Forte Among Standouts on Fall Stars Saturday at Keeneland

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Annapolis flashed home a clear winner in the $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes Oct. 8 at Keeneland, which hosted a trio of “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. (Eclipse Sportswire)

New York-based trainer Todd Pletcher wasn’t at Keeneland Oct. 8, but the Hall of Famer’s impact on a pair of back-to-back Grade 1 races late in the afternoon was unmistakable.

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Forte first scored a neck victory in the $600,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, surviving an inquiry to prevail, and then Bass Racing’s 3-year-old Annapolis prevailed against older horses in the $1 million Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes.

Both races served as Breeders’ Cup Challenge qualifiers, earning the winners paid, automatic entry into separate Breeders’ Cup races Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland.

Annapolis winning Turf Mile. (Eclipse Sportswire)

“Not a bad hour,” Pletcher quipped in a telephone interview.

“You never take for graded these Grade 1 opportunities, and to be able to do it with these two horses, with these two clients — it was a huge day for the whole team,” he added. “I can’t say enough about the work that everyone has done to get us there.”

The horses, too, put on a show. Forte scored in his two-turn debut, and Annapolis ran a mile on a firm course that played quickly under Irad Ortiz Jr. in a stakes-record 1:33.29. The War Front colt improved to 5-for-7 with Saturday’s victory, increasing his earnings to $1,166,100. He paid $14.70 to win.

Should all go well, he could add to that bankroll next in the $2 million FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile Nov. 5 at the Lexington oval.

Third early, sitting right behind the speed in a good position, Annapolis took command after tipping out in the stretch and drew clear by 1 1/2 lengths over Ivar, the 2020 Turf Mile winner. Ivar nosed out Aidan O’Brien’s European invader Order of Australia, who was third, a neck in front of late-running Set Piece in fourth.

Speaking of Order of Australia, “He missed the jump,” jockey Christophe Soumillion said.

Pacesetting Masen, who carved out quarter-mile fractions of :23.58, :46.60, and 1:10.01, weakened to sixth. Favored Santin turned in a lackluster performance, finishing ninth.

Pletcher won the Coolmore Turf Mile for the second time after first capturing it in 2005 with Host when the race was sponsored by Shadwell.

He wasn’t the only one rightfully proud of Annapolis. So, too, was owner Perry Bass of Bass Racing. The Bass family also bred Annapolis as Bass Stables.

“This is the pinnacle,” he said following the winner’s circle ceremony, his eyes moist and his voice quivering. “To breed one and win and to win a race like this — it’s the epitome.”

Ortiz, asked about teaming up with Pletcher, who has become one of the leading supporters in recent years, Ortiz called it “awesome” to have success with the trainer’s high-powered stable.

“I’ve been riding for him the whole year, win some Grade 1s for him before, too,” Ortiz said. “I love to win a Grade 1 for anybody. I love to win for any trainer. I’m happy for him, his barn. Teamwork worked out at the end of the day. Those guys [backstretch staff] work so hard in the mornings — grooms, hotwalkers, everybody.”

Forte Fights Off Loggins in Breeders’ Futurity Thriller

Forte, outside, edged Loggins in the Breeders' Futurity. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In a paddock display worthy of Zenyatta prior to the $600,000 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, the strapping Forte danced his way past the crowd before delivering a gallant neck victory in his final foray before the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The son of Violence’s saddling-ring antics were of no concern to Todd Pletcher’s assistant Amelia Green.

“Todd warned me this morning that in Saratoga he was exactly like that,” Green said, referring to his behavior before winning the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes Sept. 5. “He didn’t do anything bad you could just see he was on edge and ready to go.”

Once the starting gates opened, however, the prancing colt turned his mind to business. Angled in toward the inside under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte raced comfortably in seventh position behind a tightly bunched first flight of rivals led by Loggins.

Loggins, a $460,000 yearling purchase from the barn of trainer Brad Cox, was, like Forte, also making his two-turn debut in the Breeders’ Futurity. The son of Ghostzapper turned in a dazzling performance at first asking three weeks before in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs.

The fractions were fast and furious early as the 14 juveniles wove and weaved their way around the Keeneland oval through a :22.94 opening quarter-mile and :46.36 half-mile. Loggins continued to pick up the tempo into the final turn, opening up a one-length advantage as the charge hit the top of the lane with the six-furlongs raced in 1:11.63.

Forte meanwhile was forced to tip four wide into the bend and swooped into contention at the quarter pole. Thrusting a head in front of Loggins and Florent Geroux with two furlongs left to run, the colt shouldered his rival the entire length of the stretch. Loggins, despite the pressure, refused to bend but at the finish line Forte was the narrow victor in a time of 1.44.74 on a fast main track.

“[Loggins] ran a good race, I’m proud of him,” Cox said of runner-up Loggins. “He did all the dirty work. It did get tight I don’t if it was the right call, it doesn’t matter. That’s the decision made but it’s all good we will regroup and see what happens.”—Molly Rollins

Slammed Sizzes in Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes Runaway

There went Slammed, winging her way out around the old dirt track at Keeneland just like she was supposed to do. The 4-year-old daughter of Marking was the speed in the $350,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, her place at the front of an eight-horse field unquestioned through the early going.

Eclipse Sportswire

The turn for home was another matter. That’s where the New Mexico-bred filly could have faltered in her first Grade 2 race, a huge step up against Kentucky bluebloods on the world stage.

Instead, she kept on going.

Widening away to a 6 1/2-length victory in the six-furlong test Saturday in Lexington, Slammed left her rivals in the dust with a swish of her long black tail, ears pricked as she crossed the finish line in a final time of 1:10.03 under Florent Geroux. Not only did she punch her ticket to the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, but she put her sire in the spotlight, along with trainer and co-breeder Todd Fincher.

“New Mexico don’t get much recognition as far as trainers or horses, and she’s a superstar — she belongs with the best,” said Fincher, who bred Slammed in partnership with Brad King and trains her for King, Suzanne Kirby, and Barbara Coleman. “We’ve always thought she was good enough and the timing was right, and everything’s worked right now so perfectly. It’s a great feeling.”

Golden Pal Sets Stakes Record in Woodford Score

Eclipse Sportswire

Trainer Wesley Ward was pretty excited about Golden Pal's chances for a repeat victory in November in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint even before his romping victory in the $315,175 Woodford Stakes Presented by FanDuel.

What is he now?

“We couldn’t be more excited,” Ward said after watching the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt toy with eight rivals through the 5 1/2 furlongs before winning by 1 1/2 lengths in a stakes-record time of 1:01.39 on firm turf.

Golden Pal shot right to the front as the field left the starting gate and showed the way for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. through quarter-mile fractions of :21.25, :43.42. It did not appear Ortiz was even asking for his best as Golden Pal scored his eighth win from 12 starts.

“He’s just a fast horse,” Ortiz said.—Bob Kieckhefer

Front-Running In Italian Strikes in First Lady

Getting an easy, uncontested lead under Joel Rosario, In Italian comfortably turned back a stretch challenge from favored stablemate Regal Glory for a length victory in the $750,000 First Lady Stakes Presented by UK Heathcare. Chad Brown trains both for owner Peter Brant.

The Mike Stidham-trained Princess Grace rallied to grab third, preventing Brown from having the trifecta with his three starts in the six-horse field. Brown’s third entrant, Technical Analysis, ran fourth.

In Italian ran a mile on a firm turf course in 1:33.22 following splits of :23.37, :47, and 1:10.45. She returned $7.74 for a $2 win wager. Bred by Fairway Thoroughbreds in Great Britain, In Italian is a 4-year-old daughter of Dubawi out of the Redoute’s Choice mare Florentina.—Eric Mitchell

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