Juddmonte Farms’ homebred First Defence took over at the three-eighths pole and never looked back, the son of Unbridled's Song eventually romping to a decisive 6 3/4-length victory in the $250,000 Forego Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) Aug. 30 at Saratoga. It was his first graded stakes win on the dirt and first triumph in four starts at the Spa.
Trained by Bobby Frankel, First Defence entered the seven-furlong sprint two-for-four this season. He secured his first graded stakes win June 15 in the Jaipur Stakes (gr. IIIT) while making his turf debut at Belmont. Most recently, the 4-year-old colt was runner-up to Abraaj in the Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II) July 26 at Saratoga.
In the Forego, which saw a field of 10 go to post, First Defence broke alertly from the inside under Channing Hill. Meanwhile, even-money favorite Lucky Island, a winner of four consecutive starts, broke poorly, was squeezed in tight quarters and had to be steadied by Alan Garcia. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee would never recover.
First Defence battled with Eternal Star through an aggressive first quarter of :22.53. Those two were heads apart for three furlongs, but First Defence began to wear his rival down and although posting speedy fractions of :44.61 and 1:08.49, was still going strong while taking a 4 1/2-length advantage into the stretch.
Eternal Star was second, but beginning to tire. Ferocious Fires and Greeley’s Conquest were next, while Lucky Island tried to get back into the mix with a strong five-wide move. But none of them were gaining any ground on the leader, and with steady urging from Hill, First Defence extended his advantage with every stride.
The final time was 1:21.55 on a ‘fast’ main track.
“I tried to keep him a little off (the rail) on the backside because Johnny (Velazquez aboard Eternal Star) gave us so much room,” said Hill, who earned his first grade I win and first stakes win at Saratoga. “Coming to the three-eighths pole, I figured everyone was going to have to start running to catch us. What a nice horse! He went 44 like he was going 47. He just cruised around there. I have to thank Mr. Frankel and the owners so much for putting me on this horse.”
There was a four-way blanket photo for runner-up, which went to 38-1 Greeley’s Conquest. Ferocious Fires was a head back in third, while Eternal Star settled for fourth.
Going off at 7-1, First Defence paid $17.60, $9 and $5.80. The exacta (2-8) was worth $552, while the trifecta (2-8-5) returned a whopping $7,768 with 24-1 Ferocious Fires.
Bred in Kentucky, First Defence is out of the Seattle Slew mare Honest Lady. He is now 6-3-0 from 12 lifetime starts and has earned $576,534.
“He ran like we always thought he could run,” Frankel said. “I was shocked that he ran as good as he did. He has been stopping in his last two races. I was waiting for him to start slowing down, but he kept on going. As fast as he is today, he'll go probably go right to the Breeders’ Cup. I was concerned about the 1-post, but he broke with the field and dragged him to the lead. Obviously, he likes this track.”
Tasteyville finished fifth, followed by Lucky Island, Premium Wine, Bold Start, Forefathers and Real Estate.