Forest Danger hadn't dropped off the early pace since rallying from sixth to win his debut race 14 months ago. Saturday he became a grade I winner for the first time when he closed into a scorching pace to win the $350,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct in only his sixth lifetime start.
He defeated Medallist, who handed Forest Danger his only career defeat in last May's Withers (Gr. III), in the seven-furlong event. Forest Danger's only start since the Withers was a 9 1/2-length triumph in his tune-up for the Carter, a Gulfstream Park optional claiming event at 6 1/2 furlongs Feb. 14.
The final time of 1:20.46 was two-fifths of a second off the track record held by Artax.
Ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano, Forest Danger broke slow and trailed the field down the backside while Don Six carved out a wild half mile in :43 1/5. Bejarano moved the 4-year old son of Forestry
up gradually on the far turn and was forced to dip into the well late when Don Six dug in and Medallist battled between those two.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Forest Danger finally seized the lead and won by a tenuous 1 3/4 lengths. Medallist finished another 1 1/4 lengths clear of Don Six, who finished sixth in last year's Carter.
"I tried to save my horse," Bejarano said. "He stayed very comfortable. In the last half-mile, I asked my horse and he came up little by little. At the three-eighths, the horse in front (Don Six) was getting a little tired. I went up with (Medallist). Leaving the quarter-pole, my horse switched leads and finished up real good "
Forest Danger, who has never gone off higher than an even money choice, returned $3.70, $2.80 and $2.20. Medallist returned $3.90 and $2.90 while Don Six returned $2.70 to show.
He earned $210,000 for owners Aaron and Marie Jones, more than doubling his career bankroll to $393,000. Forest Danger, bred in Kentucky from the mare Starry Ice (Ice Age) by Barbara Jean and Jerry Dutton, was a $900,000 Fasig-Tipton buy in February 2003.
Belmont Park's $$750,000 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) is on the horizon for Forest Danger on May 30.
"I'm not really sure what Todd is going to do with him," said Seth Benzel, assistant to Pletcher. "I don't know if he'll try to stretch him out to a mile or just keep sprinting."
Medallist also turned in a big effort.
"He ran good; in fact, it's the best he's ever run," said trainer H. Allen Jerkens. "The horse has guts. He chased a fast pace and he kept running all the way. He lost to a really good horse, but of course, I wanted him to win."
Don Six, who tired after setting the early pace, will likely run next on Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday May 7th, at Belmont Park
"We knew we were taking a shot," said trainer Scott Lake. "Seven furlongs in not his ideal distance and it is real hard to get him to relax. We're going to point for the Bold Ruler at Belmont Park."
The $100,000 Bold Ruler (gr. III) is contested at six furlongs May 7.
Unforgettable Max Mass Media and Primary Suspect trailed.