Champion Squirtle Squirt, tops field for Forego Stakes.

Champion Squirtle Squirt, tops field for Forego Stakes.

Mike Corrado

Topped by Squirtle Squirt, Deep Field to Contest Forego

It was early June, and Explicit had just stormed home a length winner in Belmont Park's grade II True North Handicap. Most trainers in Ian Jory's position would have immediately grabbed a national stakes schedule in search of the next spot. A son of Distant View, Explicit proved that he could ship from track to track with little consequence, giving plenty of options to Jory and owner Marvin Malmuth.

Jory, however, had a plan to get his fleet, 5-year-old horse to the October 26th Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Arlington Park for the $1 million, six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint and was committed to it. Having raced seven times since January at six different tracks, Explicit was going to get a vacation. Eleven weeks after the True North, vacation time is over and the time has come for Explicit to get back to work. He will make his first start in nearly three months in Sunday's grade I, $250,000 Forego Handicap at six and a half furlongs.

Eight were entered in the 23rd running of the Forego including: Squirtle Squirt, last year's Sprint Champion and Orientate, the East's leading male sprinter.

"We were standing in the winners' circle at Belmont after the True North and I said, 'that's it. He's done for the summer,'" Jory said. "The Forego has been our target all along. It'll be a good comeback spot for him. I've always said he had the quality to run in the Breeders' Cup. We're going to prove that this fall."

Though he is able to run six furlongs in 1:08 and change on a good day, Explicit has yet to defeat a horse of Squirtle Squirt's or Orientate's quality. In fact, Explicit has faced Squirtle Squirt twice - in Hollywood Park's Triple Bend Handicap and Santa Anita's Palos Verdes Handicap - and was badly beaten in both. Squirtle Squirt, however, could be a tad vulnerable in the Forego as he makes his first start since having a chip removed from his knee, the second such surgery of his career. Squirtle Squirt, the Forego's 122-pound co-highweight with Orientate, has a 215-day layoff to overcome.

"Now's the time to catch him," Jory said. "He's returning from an injury and has apparently been a little rank in his workouts. I've got respect for Orientate, but he beat an aging Say Florida Sandy in the Vanderbilt. I think this race is a step up for him."

Explicit has been in Saratoga all week. On Wednesday morning, the six-time winner breezed four furlongs over Saratoga's training turf course in :47 2/5.

"He really likes it up here," Jory said. "The only thing I will be concerned about is if the track comes up wet. He doesn't like a sticky track. If it's `off,' we'll probably run anyway. We've been pointing for the Forego and shipped all the way from California."

David Lanzman Racing's Squirtle Squirt became just the fourth three-year-old to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint when he bested Xtra Heat and Caller One at Belmont Park last fall. A colt by Marquetry, Squirtle Squirt has run just once since his Breeders' Cup Triumph, finishing second to Snow Ridge in Santa Anita's Grade 2 Palos Verdes in late January. Shortly after the Palos Verdes, Squirtle Squirt underwent knee surgery. Since returning to Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel barn, Squirtle Squirt has worked six times in New York.

"He's not a hundred percent," Frankel said. "Usually, when they're fresh they'll run hard. I want him to break and go. We're not going to rate him. It's always a concern when you're coming off a long layoff and facing good horses, but he's doing good."

Frankel also entered Flaxman Stable's Aldebaran in the Forego. Second in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in late May, Aldebaran enters the Forego off a runner-up finish to Voodoo in a third-level allowance here on August 3rd. Unlike his quick-footed mate, Squirtle Squirt, Aldebaran likes to rally from off the pace. "He's much better now than he was for that race," Frankel said. "There was no pace in there, but he still put in a good run."

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will try to notch his first Forego win with Bob and Beverly Lewis' Orientate. A 4-year-old, Orientate's take-no-prisoners running style and high early speed has helped him become the East's top male sprinter. The Mt. Livermore colt enters the Forego seeking his fourth consecutive stakes victory. Earlier in the meet, he crushed a field of five in the grade II A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap, completing the six-furlong heat in 1:09 3/5 while under a hand ride.

"I can't make any excuses for him this morning," Lukas said. "The Vanderbilt didn't seem to take much out of him. He's as good as he's ever been."

Although Squirtle Squirt figures a handful in the Forego, Lukas has already defeated the Eclipse Award winner. Back in January, it was Lukas' recently retired Snow Ridge that dealt Squirtle Squirt a four-length loss in the Palos Verdes. "Orientate is comparable to Snow Ridge -- he's just as good, if not better," Lukas said. "We've got respect for everyone in there, but I think we've established ourselves as the premier sprinter in the country. We've got to keep and proving and improving. There are no givens out there. He's going to have to show up and run a big race."

The field for Sunday's Grade I Forego, in post position order with trainers, jockeys, and weights:
1) Silky Sweep, John Terranova, Richard Migliore, 114
2) Squirtle Squirt, Bobby Frankel, Jorge Chavez, 122
3) Orientate, D. Wayne Lukas, Jerry Bailey, 122
4) Saint Verre, H. Allen Jerkens, Jean-Luc Samyn, 114
5) Multiple Choice, Jimmy Jerkens, John Velazquez , 114
6) Hook and Ladder, John Kimmel, Edgar Prado , 114
7) Aldebaran, Bobby Frankel, Pat Day, 115
8) Explicit, Ian Jory, Lonnie Meche, 119