If Mo Forza had been dethroned in Saturday’s $300,000 Del Mar Mile (G2), the defending champion would have had a few excuses at his disposal.
Making his first start back from a 10 1/2-month layoff due to a soft tissue injury, he got off to an awkward start, and found himself behind a tepid pace that played into the hands of his opposition. But the 11-10 favorite overcame every obstacle to nip Smooth Like Strait in the shadow of the wire. In so doing, Mo Forza re-established himself as a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) on this course.
Trained by Peter Miller, Mo Forza is a homebred for the late Barry Abrams’ Bardy Farm campaigned in partnership with OG Boss. The son of Uncle Mo emerged as a premier turf performer at the back end of his three-year-old season, when racking up four straight wins including the 2019 Hollywood Derby (G1), Twilight Derby (G2), and Mathis Brothers Mile (G2). His skein ended with a ninth in the 2020 Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1), and he wasn’t seen again for seven months.
Mo Forza resumed with a dominating victory in last summer’s Del Mar Mile, followed by another success in the City of Hope Mile (G2). Expected to play a prominent role in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland, he unfortunately had to be shelved instead.
On Saturday, the Del Mar Mile once again served as the canvas for his winning comeback. This time it was a much closer call, understandably in the circumstances. Miller said that the five-year-old was not fully fit, so Mo Forza’s class carried him.
Drawn in the outside post 5, Mo Forza broke inward, bumped with Count Again, and appeared to have his hind end shoved out from under him. Jockey Flavien Prat helped him regroup several lengths back in fourth, trailed only by Count Again.
Meanwhile, fellow Miller pupil Neptune’s Storm was carving out moderate fractions of :23.69, :48.52, and 1:12.17 on the firm course. Perched in an ideal second was Smooth Like Strait, who pounced in the stretch. Hit the Road, who also lay close in third, remained in the hunt but couldn’t quite lift enough when the pace quickened.
Mo Forza, however, was able to gain ground despite rallying into the hottest part of the race. Gathering momentum out wide, the bay forced his head in front in 1:35.03.
The admirably consistent Smooth Like Strait was a length up on Hit the Road, who checked in a half-length to the good of Neptune’s Storm. Count Again was last of the quintet, and Next Shares scratched.
“He did it last year and he did it again this year,” Prat told Del Mar publicity, “so all the credit goes to the trainer. He broke well and then relaxed nicely for me. He really responded when I asked him to run, and we were in a sprint from the eighth mile pole home. I knew we got up.”
Miller was relieved.
“I was worried if I had him fit enough, I really was,” the trainer said. “But he’s a champion and he’s got that heart of a champion. I’m just glad I had him fit enough – just enough.”
Mo Forza’s scorecard stands at 13-7-3-1, $914,460. The Kentucky-bred is out of the Unusual Heat mare Inflamed, a full sister to Abrams’ Grade 2 winner Burns.