Calumet Farm homebred Lexitonian, a racing enigma who broke through with his biggest performance to date last month, goes after a second consecutive win for the first time in his career in the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Aug. 28.
The 42nd running of the Forego, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses, is one of seven graded-stakes, six of them Grade 1, worth $4.6 million in purses on a blockbuster program highlighted by the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes.
Five of the eight horses entered in the Forego are Grade 1 winners, including Firenze Fire, Mind Control, Mischevious Alex and Whitmore, the champion sprinter of 2020. Lexitonian joined the group with a half-length victory in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt July 31, his 19th career start and first since being eased to the wire in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap June 5 at Belmont Park.
“He’s probably not a fan favorite horse because he’s a tough horse to handicap. No one knows what to expect,” trainer Jack Sisterson said. “We’ve always had the confidence to put him in races like that. He does from time to time throw a clunker in. He got beat (45 ¼) lengths in the Met Mile. A lot of people probably would have dropped him down a grade to get him a confidence win and get him back on track, but he showed signs that he was still capable of winning a type of race like the Vanderbilt. We stuck him in there and he proved to everybody that he’s got the capability of jumping up with a big performance.”
Sisterson approached the Vanderbilt with a different strategy, asking jockey Jose Lezcano to get the 5-year-old son of champion sprinter Speightstown involved early. Breaking from the rail, they dueled first with Strike Power and then with Special Reserve on the lead before prevailing at odds of 34-1.
“We sort of changed the tactics with him,” Sisterson said. “He’d been breezing down on the inside of horses, and he’s very workmanlike. It was just by chance we drew the one hole. I suppose when you draw the one, you have to jump and go forward. Going three-quarters, you’re not going to take back and make one run. I’d never be someone to tell a jockey what to do, but I just chatted to Jose about the race. I said, ‘Let’s be real aggressive early and see if you can put him on the lead.’ Credit to Jose, it was a brilliant ride. Lexitonian really responded to that.”
Lexitonian became a graded-stakes winner in the Grade 3 Chick Lang in 2019 at Pimlico Race Course, later that summer returning to Maryland to take the Concern at Laurel Park. He won one of his next 11 starts prior to the Vanderbilt, coming up a nose short in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby last August and a head shy in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs May 21. He also ran fifth in last year’s Forego, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Win Win Win.
“He’d probably been a bit unfortunate not to already have been a Grade 1 winner. Obviously I’m biased. He’s had some near misses but he put it all together in the Vanderbilt,” Sisterson said. “He’s shown us signs that he’s going to run the same sort of race he did in the Vanderbilt. We haven’t changed anything up with him. We’ve just kept it simple. With him, less is more. We found that out pretty quickly. We’re excited about Saturday. It would be great to see him duplicate a performance like that. I think he’s well capable of doing it. He couldn’t be doing any better.”
Lezcano returns to ride from post position 3.
Robert LaPenta, trainer Ron Moquett and Head of Plains Partners’ Whitmore rallied to be third after some early trouble in the Vanderbilt, beaten less than two lengths. According to Equibase, the 8-year-old gelding – a winner of 15 races including the 2018 Forego and nearly $4.5 million in purse earnings from 42 career starts – can become the second-oldest horse to win a Grade 1 event at Saratoga behind John’s Call, who was 9 when he won the Sword Dancer in 2009.
The Vanderbilt was Whitmore’s first race since running third by a head in the Churchill Downs, a nose behind Lexitonian. Winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall to clinch his first year-end championship, he will have the services of Joel Rosario from post position 2.
Another multi-millionaire in the Forego is Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire, a 14-time winner with nine graded victories who earned Grade 1 credentials in the 2017 Champagne at Belmont Park. The 6-year-old Poseidon’s Warrior horse has enjoyed great success downstate, including wins in the Grade 2 True North and Grade 3 Runhappy this spring, but his lone win in eight Saratoga starts came in the Grade 3 Sanford in 2017, his second career race.
Making his third straight appearance in the Forego, having run second to champion Mitole in 2019 and 11th behind Win Win Win last year, Firenze Fire will have Jose Ortiz in the irons from post position 8.
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control snapped an eight-race losing streak last out in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud July 4 at Belmont Park, his first start for newly inducted Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. His two career Grade 1 victories have come at Saratoga in the 2018 Hopeful and 2019 H. Allen Jerkens, both at the Forego distance, for previous trainer Gregg Sacco.
“He’s good at the distance. He’s won over the track and seems to be maintaining form,” Pletcher said. “We expect a tough race, but he’s doing good.”
Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt’s Yaupon won each of his first four career starts last year, two of them coming at Saratoga – an open allowance triumph over older horses and the Grade 2 Amsterdam – as well as the Chick Lang. Following a troubled eighth in both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to end 2020 and the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen to open 2021, Yaupon returned to capture Pimlico’s Lite the Fuse July 4 in his most recent outing.
“(The Breeders’ Cup) was too much too soon,” Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said. “He had run well at Pimlico previously and thought it was a very fast race. He came out of it in good shape. Obviously, I think he deserves the chance in the Forego. He’s run very well at Saratoga, as well.”