WOODY STEPHENS S. | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 7 FURLONGS
Forty Tales took advantage of a wicked early pace in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens, closing fast late to win by three parts of a length. Despite capturing the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs in his previous start, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt was overlooked at 8-1 by the betting public and paid $19.80, $8.50 and $5.40 for his second consecutive graded stakes victory.
"He's a real solid horse. He shows up and runs hard every time," Pletcher said. "The biggest concern was just how the racetrack was playing [favorably for speed].
"We can't change his style at this point, so we just let him run his race and, fortunately, they went fast enough to come back to him today."
The bay three-year-old son of Tale of a Cat completed seven furlongs in 1:22 2/5 on the drying-out fast track at Belmont.
With Joel Rosario up, Forty Tales bided his time at the back of the 11-horse field while Let Em Shine ripped through an opening split of :21 4/5. The pacesetter broke running from his far outside post but was being chased from the start by the quick Zee Bros, who was a length back after a sizzling half-mile in :44 3/5. The two speedsters hooked up on the lead turning for home and were still head-and-head with a furlong remaining, reaching the eighth pole in 1:09 1/5.
Forty Tales, who trailed by about 15 lengths on the backstretch, started to advance leaving the far turn and bumped with Declan's Warrior in midstretch, altering course to the far outside. But he still had about five lengths to make up in deep stretch. As the front-runners began to tire noticeably from their early exertions, Forty Tales gobbled up ground to reach the lead in the shadow of the wire.
"It looked like they were going a little quick in front and he always comes from off the pace, anyway. I thought we could take advantage of that to try and win the race," Rosario said. "He broke well and I started finding myself way behind, but I was hoping they were going quick enough so I could finish with him.
"He did everything right and just got the jump in the last minute. He really finished. He tried hard, the little horse, and everything set up perfect."
"I was concerned about the California horses [Let Em Shine and Zee Bros]," Pletcher added. "They're obviously some talented horses with a lot of speed. I was kind of hoping for more of a speed duel but it looked like they were going fast enough to set it up for a closer."
Declan's Warrior, the 9-2 co-second choice, finished fast while altering course between rivals in deep stretch to grab second, a head better than Clearly Now, who stalked in midpack before advancing to challenge in the stretch drive. It was another head back to 2-1 favorite Let Em Shine, who gamely held fourth, 2 3/4 lengths better than the retreating Zee Bros. Next under the wire came Tenango, Capo Bastone, Honorable Dillon, Salutos Amigos, Retreive and Merit Man.
Forty Tales captured his career debut at Aqueduct in late November and opened his sophomore season with a convincing allowance score at Parx in early January. Shipped to South Florida, he just missed when making his stakes bow in the February 2 Hutcheson, rallying to finish a close second, but followed with a dull fifth in the March 2 Swale. That race looks like an aberration for talented sprinter/middle distance specialist, who rallied to win the April 27 Derby Trial by a neck at a one-turn mile.
"He's a tough horse, man," Pletcher said. "We're fortunate to have a lot of good three-year-olds and none of them are as brave as this one."
With Saturday's $240,000 payday, Forty Tales has now earned $459,789 from his 6-4-1-0 career mark.
Bred by the Randal Family Trust in Kentucky, Forty Tales was sold for $80,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling. The Tale of the Cat colt is a full brother to the stakes-placed Face the Cat and a half-brother to multiple stakes scorer and Grade 2-placed Bear Character.
Forty Tales is out of the multiple stakes-placed Forty Niner mare Forty Love, who is a full sister to multiple stakes queen and Grade 1-placed Footing. This is the family of Grade 2 winners Banned and Masseuse as well as Argentinean Group 1 victress Peristaltica.