Forte knocks off Cave Rock to give Todd Pletcher third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win

Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Forte to victory ahead of Juan Hernandez on Cave Rock.
Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Forte to victory ahead of Juan Hernandez on Cave Rock in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race Friday at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

It was no surprise that Cave Rock and National Treasure, both trained by Bob Baffert, would finish one in front of the other in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, much like they did when Cave Rock won the American Pharoah at Santa Anita last month.

The surprise was that Forte finished in front of both. Well, not that big of a surprise because the 2-year-old colt was the second choice at 5-1 behind heavy favorite Cave Rock, who was 2-5.

It was Forte’s third Grade 1 stakes win and fourth victory in five starts, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his third win in the Juvenile. The last time was in 2012 with Shanghai Bobby. He also won in 2010 with Uncle Mo, who like Forte is owned by Mike Repole. Vinnie Viola, owner of the NHL’s Florida Panthers, is also a part of the ownership group.

Asked what’s next for the colt, Repole said, “2-year-old championship, Eclipse Award, Palm Beach, wherever they are having it this year.”


He’s right on all counts. Forte likely wrapped up the 2-year-old male Eclipse Award. It will be announced Jan. 23 in Palm Beach, Fla.

The race set up as expected with Cave Rock pressing the early leader Congruent on the outside. On the backstretch, Cave Rock put his head in front and it was looking like he was on his way to his fourth consecutive win. National Treasure moved up to second. But midway through the far turn, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. got Forte to start passing horses. By mid-stretch Forte passed Cave Rock on the way to winning the 1 1/16-mile race by 1 1/2 lengths.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic could be Flightline’s last race. Even if he wins, some believe he hasn’t raced enough to be one of the all-time greats.

Nov. 4, 2022

“He got that two-turn experience [in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland] and it paid off,” Pletcher said. “He was much more professional [Friday]. We learned a little something [from the Breeders’ Futurity] and we tweaked off the last race and it paid off coming here.”

Forte paid $12.04 to win, $3.76 to place and $2.64 to show. This year Kentucky became the only state that uses penny breakage, unlike California which rounds the payoffs down to the nearest 10-cent mark. After Forte, Cave Rock and National Treasure, the remainder of the field was Blazing Sevens, Curly Jack, Verifying, Hurricane J, Congruent, Wound Up and Lost Ark.

Baffert offered no excuses for his horses.

“Forte ran a great race and came and got us,” he said. “I knew they went very fast early and I thought [jockey] Juan [Hernandez] did a good job. He stayed away when they were going fast and slowed it down. He didn’t switch leads until way late. He got tired and that other horse came running. He ran a big race.

“There is a reason why [Cave Rock] won three in a row. He’ll get a lot out of [this race]. He’s a big, strong horse. It’s a different kind of surface, but he had every chance to win, even though he was going fast.”


As for National Treasure, Baffert said: “He ran a great race. He’s getting better and better. … He just hasn’t caught up with [Cave Rock] yet.”

Winning the Juvenile is no guarantee of Kentucky Derby success as only two of the previous 38 winners went on to win at Churchill Downs — Street Sense in 2007 and Nyquist in 2016. It’s a long road to the first Saturday in May as Derby hopefuls start to fall away and new horses enter the picture.

Bob Baffert says he believes his return to Kentucky will be well received by fans. Others think the state is still divided over the Hall of Fame trainer.

Nov. 3, 2022

Trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore had a good first day of the Breeders’ Cup. First, they won the one-mile Juvenile Fillies Turf with Mediate ($6.08 to win), who cruised through the stretch to win by 2 ½ lengths. In the last of the five 2-year-old races, Victoria Road ($13.14) nosed out Silver Knott at the wire to win the one-mile Juvenile Turf.

O’Brien now has 15 Breeders’ Cup wins, while Moore has 11. Both are based in Europe. Wonder Wheel ($15.00) was the winner of the Juvenile Fillies as she rallied wide in the stretch to beat Leave No Trace by three lengths. Trainer Mark Casse has been high on this filly and Friday she showed why while navigating the 1 1/16-mile race. “This summer I was saying she’s my next Classic Empire,” Casse said. “I thought that she was that good.”

The Juvenile Turf Sprint was won by Mischief Magic ($6.92) as he rallied from fifth to beat Dramatised by a length in the 5 ½-furlong race. Tyler’s Tribe was eased at the finish line and vanned off. Veterinarian Dr. Allen Ruggles told NBC Sports that the horse was bleeding from the nostrils and was not in distress and a full recovery was likely.

The second day of the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday is nine races, all worth at least $1 million. It will be highlighted by the $6-million Breeders’ Cup Classic where the undefeated Flightline will take on a strong field. A win would likely guarantee him Horse of the Year honors.