The 5-2 favorite off his smart stakes bow in the Twilight Derby (G2), the Peter Miller sophomore skimmed the rail behind the pacesetter most of the way. That role was expected to be played by Kingly, but he was scratched. Thus Neptune’s Storm took up the job through fractions of :23.90, :48.22, and 1:12.44 on the good turf.
Mo Forza traveled beautifully, and as track announcer Trevor Denman observed, just needed room rounding the far turn. He didn’t have long to wait as Uncle Bull, who had been attending Neptune’s Storm, began to tire and left the door open.
Lopez seized the chance and Mo Forza did the rest. Accosting Neptune’s Storm down the lane, the Uncle Mo colt edged away, despite lugging in, by three-quarters of a length. Mo Forza clocked 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.57 to rack up his third straight win.
The Chad Brown duo of Standard Deviation and Digital Age rallied from well back for third and fourth. Standard Deviation uncorked a sustained run on the inside and wished the race were still held at its former 1 1/4 miles. Digital Age was strung up in traffic on the outside before finding daylight. Succeedandsurpass, Originaire, Proud Pedro, Henley’s Joy, Nolde, Mr Dumas, Moody Jim, and Uncle Bull concluded the order under the wire.
“You can look good when you’re riding the best horse in the race,” Lopez said. “You’ve just got to get lucky. I was using my hands on him during the running. I took a bit of a hold on him. I think he liked my hands. When we made the lead, he was waiting (on other horses). But we got busy. Today was a special day for me. Here I am: Del Mar. Big horses. Good jockeys. And I get to win three stakes. You’ve got to be lucky. I was today.”
“Really nice horse and a super ride,” Miller said. “He got banged pretty good coming out of the gate but he came back strong.
“I think it’s just maturity,” the trainer added of Mo Forza’s recent improvement. “I’d like to say it was some genius trainer move, but I’d be lying. I’ve always been high on this horse. He’s always shown a lot of ability but it has taken time for him to put it all together. But we knew he had it in him.”
A homebred racing for Barry and Dyan Abrams’ Bardy Farm in partnership with OG Boss, Mo Forza didn’t begin his career until this summer. The bay took six starts to break his maiden, running well each time and missing by a nose in an allowance. Finally checking that box at Santa Anita September 29, he continued his progress in the Twilight Derby and again here.
Mo Forza’s scorecard stands at 8-3-3-1, $379,460. The Kentucky-bred was produced by the Unusual Heat mare Inflamed, a full sister to Burns (who captured the 2011 La Jolla [G2] for then-trainer Abrams) and Grade 1-placed Brushburn.
The only stakes that eluded Lopez was the $201,404 Seabiscuit (G2), where he nursed Om along on the front end before he faded. As Om drifted off the rail, Next Shares took advantage of a charmed run up the inside to spring a 27-1 upset. Less fortunate was 3-2 favorite Sacred Life, who found room too late and rallied furiously in second.
Co-owned by trainer Richard Baltas, Debby Baltas, Christopher T. Dunn, Jules Iavarone, Michael Iavarone, Jerry McClanahan, Ritchie Robershaw, and Mark Taylor, Next Shares was better than his odds suggested. The Archarcharch gelding had won last fall’s Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) and finished a close sixth in his title defense. Although last in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at a quick Santa Anita, Next Shares tends to enjoy some give in the ground, and he got it along with the relatively easier spot here.
Om, who hit the rail in the course of his opening quarter in :23.51, raced a little off the fence as he doled out splits of :47.96 and 1:12.11. River Boyne tracked on the inside but angled out for the drive.
Next Shares, reserved in midpack by Jose Valdivia Jr., secured the perfect position as the gap opened. Quickening to the front, Next Shares had a half-length to spare from the closing Sacred Life and rewarded his loyalists with $56.40.
“When Flavien (Prat on River Boyne) went one way, I went the other,” Valdivia said. “The hole opened up for me and this horse was there. I knew I was on a lot of horse all the way. I just needed a spot to run.”
Javier Castellano was ruing his luck aboard Sacred Life.
“I had to check pretty good near the quarter,” the Hall of Famer said. “And it’s a short stretch here and I just didn’t have enough time to get there in the end.”
River Boyne was another head back in third. Majestic Eagle rounded out the superfecta, followed by Prince Earl, Om, Andesh, Ritzy A. P., and Ronald R. Cleopatra’s Strike was scratched in favor of Sunday’s Hollywood Turf Cup (G2).
Next Shares negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:42 to notch his fourth stakes win. His others include the San Gabriel (G2) in January (the last time he hit the board) and the 2018 Old Friends S. at Kentucky Downs that earned him a permanent home at the retirement facility. His resume of 29-7-4-2, $1,677,771, reflects five stakes placings, notably last season’s Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) and Shoemaker Mile (G1).
“I think for him it’s always good to have a little cut in the ground,” Baltas said. “He doesn’t like the firm turf, he likes it a little softer. It was very rewarding. I never gave up on him; he just had a couple bad trips. I didn’t do any rain dances. I’m running seven or eight horses on the grass and those that like it will run well and those that don’t won’t. This horse was ready today and had a great trip.”
Bred by Buck Pond Farm in Kentucky, Next Shares sold for $87,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling. He joined Baltas after bringing $190,000 as a four-year-old runner at Keeneland November in 2017. The half-brother to multiple stakes scorer and Grade 3-placed Angelica Zapata is out of the stakes-placed Evansville Slew mare Two Dot Slew. His second dam is a full sister to top California sire Unusual Heat, the broodmare sire of Mo Forza.