SARATOGA SPRINGS — Until a young horse races in muddy conditions, you’re never sure if he’ll like it.
It rained all day on closing day of the 154th Saratoga Race Course meet on Monday, and when Forte finally got his chance to run, in the penultimate race of the meet, he was like a kid who had been waiting all day to be let out of the house.
It started in the paddock before he was even saddled, it continued while he was warming up and he splashed home under Irad Ortiz, Jr., to win the Grade I Hopeful for 2-year-olds by three lengths over Gulfport before a rain-soaked paid-admission crowd of 17,144.
“He came really energetic into the paddock,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “It was a good energy, though. You could tell he was enjoying the rain and playing in the slop and splashing in the puddles in the paddock. I loved the way he kicked away from the pony [for the on-track warmup].”
Forte, carrying the familiar blue-and-orange silks of Repole Stable and co-owned by Elias Stable, was coming off a fourth to Mo Strike in the Grade III Sanford on opening weekend.
Since then, he has been Luke Skywalker to Bal Harbour’s Yoda.
Pletcher has been working his young horse with some older ones, including a breeze in company with the 7-year-old gelding, who came into Monday’s card on a 20-race losing streak dating back to 2018.
So, of course, the stakes veteran Bal Harbour won a claiming race in the ninth, then an hour later Forte won the Hopeful.
“Last time, he was just never able to get extracted out into the clear until really, really late, and when he did he showed some interest, and came back and trained really good, in company with some older horses,” Pletcher said.
“We had a lot of good indications that he was going to rebound and run to his capabilities. You never know until you see it. I felt like the added distance was in his favor. Nice colt.”
And a nice meet for the Pletcher barn, which may have finished second to Chad Brown in total victories, but can count five Grade I’s among theirs.
Life Is Good won the Whitney, Nest doubled up in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama, Malathaat won the Personal Ensign on Travers Day and Forte took the Hopeful.
“We had an awesome meet,” Pletcher said. “Our team did a tremendous job and worked super-hard from Day 1 to the last day. To win the races that we won, that’s awesome. Couldn’t be more happy.”
As is frequently the case, trainer Chad Brown had more than one horse in a graded stakes on the turf, and the Grade II Bernard Baruch fit that description.
And like In Italian’s win in the Grade I Diana on opening weekend, the Brown horse least regarded by the betting public was the winner.
The 7-year-old Emaraaty and jockey Flavien Prat got to the front early and re-rallied when the competition came running at them in the stretch to win by 3 1-2 lengths.
The front-running trip was atypical of Emaraaty’s running style, but he showed pretty good form in two 2022 starts heading into the Bernard Baruch, and Brown said gelding the horse in the offseason appears to have made a difference.
“This ownership group had bought him privately at the end of last year, and we decided to geld the horse even though he was an older horse — it’s a little late to be gelding him, but we tried it,” Brown said. “He was a bit of an aggressive horse, still a bit keen, as you saw, but I’ll tell you, he’s been a different horse since we gelded him and gave him some time.”
Brown also credited jockey Flavien Prat for recognizing that there didn’t appear to be any early speed horses in the field and for taking advantage of that.
“He said when he asked him leaving the gate, he tried to run off on him just a little bit, but down the backside he just told me he started to feel more comfortable with the horse and he was doing it easy,” Brown said.
“It was an honest pace, but he was doing it the right way and traveling well,” Prat said.
Brown’s other horse, Mouillage, went off as the even-money favorite and finished last of six.