Forte outraced favored Cave Rock down the stretch for a 1 1/2-length upset victory Friday in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to become the early 2023 Kentucky Derby favorite.
Todd Pletcher-trained Forte charged late and Cave Rock, weakened by an early challenge from 30-1 longshot Hurricane J, won the 1 1/16th-mile race in 1:43.06.
"The horse deserves the credit. He raced so good," jockey Irad Ortiz said after his 15th career Cup win.
"When it was time to go, as soon as we hit the clear, I hit him once and he started going forward. I knew he was going to be tough to beat."
The $2 million dirt showdown topped five opening races for two-year-olds in the two-day, 14-race event worth $30 million at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, as drama builds to Saturday's three-year-olds races, topped by the $6 million, 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic.
Runner-up Cave Rock, an oddsmakers' darling at 2-5, and third-place National Treasure (8-1) were trained by Bob Baffert, who owns a record-tying five Juvenile wins.
"He ran a gallant race. He got beat by a good horse," Baffert said of Cave Rock. "Forte ran a great race and came and got us."
Famed trainer Baffert returned to Kentucky for the first time since being banned by Churchill Downs in the wake of Medina Spirit's failed drugs test after the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher won his 13th Breeders Cup race and third in the Juvenile, but wasn't comfortable until 4-1 Forte charged past the Baffert entries in the final strides.
"You know when you get to Bob's horses they are going to find something else," Pletcher said. "I thought we had him but was most happy when he goes by.
"Definitely paid off coming here."
- Two wins for O'Brien -
Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien won his first $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf after 14 prior failures, taking his 14th Breeders' Cup victory overall thanks to Irish horse Meditate with Ryan Moore aboard.
"This filly, she done that very easy," Moore said. "Lot of talent. She hasn't ran a bad race all year."
The 2-1 favorite, with Moore aboard his 10th Breeders' Cup winner, completed the mile in 1:35.38 to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Pleasant Passage with Cairo Consort third.
"We wasn't sure about the mile but Ryan gave her a brilliant ride," O'Brien said. "Michael was very confident that this was the race for her. It's incredible, really. I'm so delighted for everyone."
For their second wins of the day, Moore and O'Brien collected their fifth career wins in the Juvenile Turf when Victoria Road captured the mile race by a nose for the Irish horse's fourth win in a row.
Mischief Magic charged up the middle to win the 5 1/2-furlong Juvenile Turf Sprint in 1:02.41 to make British trainer Charlie Appleby the first to win four consecutive races.
The Godolphin stable horse, which went off at 6-1 with jockey William Buick aboard, outraced runner-up Dramatised to win by a length with Private Creed third.
"Everything just came together for him," Buick said after his sixth Breeders Cup win.
Appleby, a seven-time winner in 12 Breeders' Cup starts, won last year's Turf, Mile and Juvenile Turf before making it four in a row.
"Fantastic ride by William," Appleby said. "He got him to the lead on the back turn there and made a lovely run up the inside."
Wonder Wheel took a three-length victory in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies, completing the 1 1/6-mile race in 1:44.90 ahead of Leave No Trace and Raging Sea.