BY BROCK SHERIDAN
John Ropes’ homebred Dorth Vader wore down even-money favorite Red Car-pet Ready inside the final furlong and won the Grade 2 Davona Dale presented by Fan-Duel TV at odds of 46-1, earning a possi-ble trip to the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5.
With jockey Miguel Vasquez aboard, the Florida-bred daughter of Girvin out of Hardcore Candy, by Yonaguska won by four-and-three-quarters lengths ahead of a late-running Guns n’ Graces in second with Red Carpet Ready hanging on for third. The Davona Dale offered a purse of $200,000 to the eight 3-year-old fillies who were set for the one-turn mile.
The victory gives Dorth Vader a good chance of qualifying for the Kentucky Oaks as the Davona Dale victory included 50 points on the Oaks leaderboard.
Last year, Shahama was the last to qual-ify for the Oaks with 50 points while Coach made it into the 2021 Oaks field with 26 points. In 2020, Bayerness was the last to make the Oaks starting gate with 8 points.
Guns n’ Graces earned 20 Oaks points for finishing second while Red Carpet Ready picked up 15 points for finishing third. Fourth-place finisher Infinite Dia-mond earned 10 points while Florida-bred Lynx was awarded 5 points for finishing fifth. They were followed, in order, by Pos-itano Sunset, Undervalued Asset and Leave No Trace.
Dorth Vader started well from post nine in the Davona Dale as Infinite Diamond and Red Carpet Ready broke best of all from the two inside posts. But Leave No Trace and jockey Tyler Gaffalione sprinted to the front from the outside post to lead Red Carpet Ready by a head as they finished the first two furlongs in :23.01. Down the backstretch, Dorth Vader chased while racing in fourth but began to edge closer to Red Carpet Ready approaching the far turn.
“I was thrilled down the backside,” trainer Michael Yates said of Dorth Vader’s position after the trainer won his first graded stakes. “I was wor-ried when [Tyler Gaffalione] was lapped outside of [Dorth Vader] that they were going to be able to pinch her back. But as soon as I saw her ease through the hole, I felt really good.”
Red Carpet Ready finished the half-mile in :45.06 and tried to shake free from Dorth Vader with Undervalued Asset another length-and-a-half farther back in third. But Dorth Vader continued to make up ground in the turn and was even terms to the outside of Red Carpet Ready when they hit the top of the stretch after three-quarters in 1:10.02.
Dorth Vader and Red Carpet Ready fought it out until they passed the eighth-pole when the former drew clear to win in 1:37.23 on the fast track.
“[Yates] told me to put her among the leaders in the pace from the start, so I gave her a long warm-up to get her interested from the beginning,” Vasquez said. “I didn’t have to use her much eventhough the pace was strong. I am really grateful.”
Dorth Vader paid $95.40 to win and is the first Florida-bred winner of the Davona Dale since Yara in 2012, who won at odds of 64-1.
“I was confident in her,” Yates said. “I thought she would run a really big race because of the way she had trained. I kind of drew a line through the Tampa race. That’s happened to me more than once. It rained really hard the day before and it was kind of a heavy track, so we just drew a line through it.”
In her most recent start before the Davona Dale, Dorth Vader was sixth, beaten nearly 12 lengths by winner Opus Forty Two in the $50,000 Gasparilla going seven furlongs at Tampa on Jan. 14.
“[The first graded stakes victory] is a great feel-ing,” Yates said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, to be honest with you.”
Dorth Vader, who won the $75,000 Juvenile Sprint against fellow Florida-breds at Gulfstream in October and the $100,000 Sandpiper at six furlongs at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 3, earned her third career stakes and first graded stakes with the Davona Dale score.
Dorth Vader was also third to Atomically and Lynx in last sum-mer’s $400,000 FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes My Dear Girl. Atom-ically scratched from the Davona Dale while Lynx finished fifth.
When asked about the possibility of trying Dorth Vader in the Kentucky Oaks, Yates responded by saying he had no reasons not to consider it.
“We’re dreaming of it [Kentucky Oaks]. Why not? We nominat-ed already to the [Gulfstream Oaks, April 1]. Right now, we’re just going to enjoy today and see how she comes out of the race and move forward. We’ll talk to Mr. Ropes about it, and we’ll make a decision. She’ll help us decide.
“I don’t see why she won’t [go two turns]. She ran a decent two turns as a 2-year-old in the stallion stakes. She wasn’t what I would consider really prepared, but they don’t move the dates, so you’ve got to go do it.”
Hardcore Candy has produced five winners from six runners with Dorth Vader her only black type winner. She has also pro-duced, Theforcebewithyou, an unraced 2-year-old filly by Air Force Blue and an unnamed yearling filly by Ocala Stud stallion Adios Charlie.
Dorth Vader is the thirteenth Florida-bred winner of the Davona Dale going back to Miss Legality in 1992. Others include Lunar Spook (1993), Cut the Charm (1994), Mia’s Hope (1995), Plum Country (1996), Glitter Woman (1997), Three Ring (1999), Ms Brookski (2002), Bsharpsonata (2008), Amen Hallelujah (2010), R Heat Lightning (2011) and Yara. room for improvement and room to continue to develop,” Pletcher said. “I think we were able to accomplish that.”
Forte won four of five starts during his championship juve-nile season that he launched with a nearly eight-length victory at Belmont Park last May. After finishing fourth in the six-fur-long Sanford (G2), he rallied from off the pace to win the sev-en-furlong Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga. He polished off a stellar campaign with a pair of off-the-pace scores around two turns in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“It looks like there’s a lot of upside,” said Pletcher said after his fourth victory in the Fountain of Youth. He had previous-ly won with Itsaknockout (2016), Eskendereya (2010) and Scat Daddy (2007).
Mike Repole, who owns Forte in partnership with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable, was obviously elated with his colt’s performance.
“It’s special. Very special. Very special. You know, for a horse making his first start in four months against other horses who have already raced this year, he does it with so much confidence,” Repole said. “It’s like everything you see – breaks well, sits well, moves well, looks great. He’s just checking all the boxes right now. He’s a pretty special horse right now.”
Rocket Can held second, a length-and-a-quarter ahead of Cyclone Mischief in third, to pick up 20 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, virtually assuring the Holy Bull winner a spot in the Kentucky Derby field with 60 total points.
Cyclone Mischief earned 15 Derby points with Mage earning 10 points for finishing fourth. Shadow Dragon earned five Derby points for coming in fifth with Il Miracolo, Dangerous Ride, Blaz-ing Sevens and Legacy Isle completing the order of finish.
He ran big. He was a little sharp leaving there. He broke awful-ly sharp. He was a little geared up in the post parade. He was a lit-tle more wound up than I actually like to see him. I was hoping he wouldn’t get too excited, but he still looked like he ran his race,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “He looked like he held on well. He broke sharp, in good position, was tactical and ran well.”
Out of the Blame mare Queen Caroline, Forte now has a record of five wins in six starts while earning $1,833,230. He was a $110,000 purchase by Repole and St. Elias at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale where he was consigned by Eaton Sales