While Verrazano made most of the noise on the East Coast on Sunday, two loud slaps on the neck of Forty Tales indicated that he had a pretty good day, too.
Twenty minutes before Verrazano blasted home to win the Haskell in New Jersey — and a day after another stablemate, Palace Malice, won the Jim Dandy — Forty Tales closed into a fast pace to win the Grade II Amsterdam at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer Todd Pletcher appears to have the top two contenders for the $1 million Travers on Aug. 24, and they could be joined on the card by another Pletcher 3-year-old in the Grade I King’s Bishop.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, Forty Tales won the 6 1⁄2-furlong Amsterdam by three-quarters of a length over Mico Margarita in typical fashion, sitting well behind a fast pace and launching a sustained run down the middle of the track.
When Forty Tales got to the winner’s circle for the photo, assistant trainer Tristan Barry, saddling Pletcher’s horses while the boss was at Monmouth Park, gave Forty Tales two affectionate slaps on the neck.
Rosario, who had four winners to take the lead in the jockey standings while John Velazquez was riding Verrazano and others at Monmouth, has been on Forty Tales for his last three victories — in the Derby Trial, Woody Stephens and Amsterdam.
It never looks easy, but Forty Tales has his preferred running style, and Rosario said he’s content to stay patient on him as long as he keeps winning.
“It’s a little hard just because he finds himself very far back early,” Rosario said. “But at the five-sixteenths, you could really see he was moving. I didn’t know if he was going to get there or not, but he really tried hard.”
“I think I was dead sure at about the sixteenth pole . . . otherwise, I wasn’t,” Barry said with a grin.
Mico Margarita and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. rode the rail to track Mentor Cane down the backstretch and around the turn, where Rainbow Heir joined the fight between them.
Mentor Cane took the field through a quarter mile in 21.77 and the half in 44.49, but he and Edgar Prado came way wide off the turn as Mico Margaraita and Rainbow Heir stuck side-by-side on the rail.
Mentor Cane actually did well to get back in the game midstretch, but by then, Forty Tales was rolling all the way outside.
Rainbow Heir dropped back to sixth, Mentor Cane settled for fourth and Mico Margarita couldn’t fend off Forty Tales.
“He broke good, we got a good spot,” Santana said. “[Mentor Cane] went to the lead and I tried taking him back around the turn, and when I asked him, he ran good.”
“He came back pretty quick out of the Carry Back, but the horse came out of that race in good shape, and I thought he ran as hard as he could today,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of Mico Margarita.
Barry said that besides the King’s Bishop, the six-furlong Vosburgh against older horses at Belmont Park also is a logical spot for Forty Tales, owned by Perretti Racing Stable.
“He likes this distance,” Barry said. “He does the same again, comes from off the pace and runs them down. He seems comfortable doing that. And we’re happy he likes it. Any time you have a horse like that, you like to see a fast pace on the front end. When that happens, it sets up for them.
“We’ll just try and find another seven-furlong event for him and go from there. We’ll see. I don’t know that you’re going to get the kind of pace he needs on the front end when you’re going a mile. We won’t try and re-invent the wheel too much.”