Apparently there’s no need for an umbrella when you win a Grade 1 stakes.
As a steady rain fell down on the winner’s circle at Saratoga Race Course, owner Mike Repole bounced back and forth from the track to the gathering of his friends while wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt.
No jacket. No hat.
He was impervious to the conditions, acting as if it was a sunny, sweltering day.
“Was it raining out there?” he said.
Oh, it was raining, but Mother Nature could not dampen the joy Repole and his partner, Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stable, were experiencing as a sloppy, sealed racetrack proved no obstacle for their juvenile colt Forte who splashed to a three-length victory over favored Gulfport in the $300,000, Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes for 2-year-olds Sept. 5 on the final day of a memorable 2022 season at the Spa.
“This was a special win with a special horse,” Repole said about the son of Violence, who rebounded for trainer Todd Pletcher after finishing fourth as the 1.45-1 favorite in the Sanford Stakes earlier in the meet. “He looked really good out there. Winning with Vinnie, and Todd, and (jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.), it’s getting to be a fun team.”
For Viola, the raindrops did not matter in the least when matched against the sunshine of having a 2-year-old colt with a bright future ahead of him.
“You look at the time today and how he carried himself and it was a super, professional performance,” Viola said. “I’m really excited about this horse. It’s a great day for Mike and I.”
It was surely a much better day than July 16 when Forte was seventh early and rallied to finish fourth, 5 ¾ lengths behind Mo Strike, who was fourth in Monday’s stakes.
“(Forte) never had any room last time, but then he got outside and galloped out nicely in a 12-horse field. Maybe if he had the 10 post last time, he wins. But, hey, he got experience, and that helped him here and this will help him the next time,” said Repole, who races under the Repole Stable banner.
That “next time” could come in the Oct. 1 Champagne Stakes, a one-turn mile stakes at Aqueduct, though another option could be the Oct. 8 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, a two-turn 1 1/16-mile test at Keeneland, host site for the Breeders’ Cup.
“We will talk with Vinnie and Mike and come up with a game plan. The Champagne is always a race we think highly of and that would be first on the radar,” said Pletcher, who has a record six Champagne wins, including one with Repole’s 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo in 2010.
While the rain and sloppy track gave the other five starters a built-in excuse for their loss, Pletcher said he wasn’t worried about Forte’s ability to handle the wet going.
“I thought he would handle it well,” Pletcher said. “I’ve seen him gallop over it and pedigree-wise, I thought he would handle it.”
Gulfport splashed out to the lead in the Hopeful, setting fractions of :22.74 and :45.57 while leading by a half-length with Mo Strike, Bourbon Bash, and Western Ghent chasing.
Racing about five paths wide under Flavien Prat, the Steve Asmussen-trained Gulfport put those pursuers away but then floated out about seven wide leaving the turn. That allowed Ortiz to swing four-wide from fifth aboard Forte and still move inside of the leader.
Approaching the eighth pole, Forte grabbed the lead and then pulled away to cover the seven furlongs in 1:22.58 as the 6.90-1 fourth betting choice.
“To end the meet with this win is great,” said Ortiz, who won his fourth Saratoga riding title this year with 55 victories. “Everybody is happy.”
Gulfport, a son of Uncle Mo, was second by nine lengths over Rodeo Creek Racing’s Blazing Sevens, a Good Magic colt who rallied from last for trainer Chad Brown.
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