THE most interesting race of the weekend in America may not be the Grade 1s. Forte, the 2022 champion two-year-old and favourite for the Kentucky Derby until a last-minute injury scare forced his withdrawal, takes on the Derby third Angel Of Empire in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, the Saratoga prep for the highlight Grade 1, the Travers Stakes at the track next month.

Though he was been absent for 71 days from April 1st to the June 11th Belmont, Forte was fit and ready for the Derby in early May and it was a confusing run.

Part-owner Mike Repole said this week: “I think that finishing second in the mile-and-a-half Belmont off 10 weeks rest shows you how great a horse Forte is. The difference between the winner (Arcangelo) and Forte in the Belmont was that the winner ran inside and it opened up for him while we took the scenic route. I think Forte ran the best race.”

That may be true but Forte was struggling before the final bend and was a good six lengths off Arcangleo into the straight. He did finish well however and over this shorter distance the first-time blinkers should be a good help.

After Angel Of Empire’s third when favourite at Churchill in the Derby, the extra distance of the Belmont Stakes had looked well suited to the Classic Empire colt but he was disappointing in dead-heating for fourth with stable companion Hit Show, two and a quarter lengths behind Arcangelo. The third Tapit Trice did not do a lot for the form in the Haskell last week.

Brad Cox also runs Saudi Crown, a dual winner before a narrow second in the Dwyer at Belmont.


Steve Asmussen’s Gun Runner colt Disarm also comes into the reckoning on his win from the very useful Verifying in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, transferred from Churchill to Ellis Park. He had finished fourth in the Derby and is a typically tough customer by his sire. He will make Forte work but the blinkers may give the favourite the edge.

The Grade 1 on the Saratoga card is the Alfred G Vanderbilt Handicap which sees top sprinter, Juddmonte’s Elite Power out to continue his seven-race winning run that goes back 11 months. The ever-consistent Gunite (Gun Runner/Asmussen again) takes him on again but was no match for the favourite when a three and a quarter-length second in the big sprint in Riyadh in January.

On the west coast Del Mar has the six-furlong Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes as its weekend highlight but with no strong west coast sprinter, the race has a field of 12 with the Mark Glatt-trained 2021 winner Dr Schivel topping the morning line odds over Spirit Of Makena, The Chosen Vron and Anarchist.

In the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, the Bob Baffert-trained Defunded stands clear of his field, winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes on his last start.


Saratoga’s Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes over a mile and three on turf sees the stateside return of Godolphin’s Rebel Romance in a nine-horse field of some of the usual suspects in Rockemperor, Verstappen, Soldier Rising and Channel Maker.

Absent since a seventh in the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic in March, his five-race winning run last year included two German Group 1s and the Breeders’ Cup Turf and his best form should cope with these rivals.

Del Mar’s nine-furlong turf Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes has two Irish-breds, the last time out Grade 3 San Francisco Mile Stakes winner Balnikhov and the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes winner Gold Phoenix both trained by Philip D’Amato.