Former Major League Baseball All-Star Jayson Werth once said there is nothing more exciting than “owning a horse and running in a big race.”

While Werth’s Two Eight Racing LLC has a share in Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (Grade 1) longshot Dornoch, his best chance at Derby Weekend glory may come Friday afternoon when his Florida-bred and multiple stakes-winner R Harper Rose meets 11 other 3-year-old fillies, including another Florida-bred in Rigney Racing LLC’s Halina’s Forte, in the $600,000 Eight Belles (G2).

If R Harper Rose or Halina’s Forte were to win the Eight Belles, they would become the first Florida-bred to win the seven-furlong event, formerly the La Troienne Stakes, since 2006 when Donald Dizney’s homebred Joint Effort, a daughter of Runaway Groom out of C.C. Princess, was victorious.

Joint Effort, trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Edgar Prado, would also win that year’s Dogwood Breeders’ Cup (G3).

R Harper Rose, who breaks from post 12, has been nothing short of spectacular for Werth and Richard Averill’s Averill Racing LLC.

A two-time graduate of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales, R Harper Rose first sold for $16,000 to Pro Racing Stable out of the Kaizen Sales consignment at the 2022 October Yearling Sale. GOP Racing then consigned the filly to the 2023 OBS March Sale where Averill purchased her for $60,000. A daughter of Journeyman Stud’s Khozan bred by Sally J. Anderson at River Mist Farm in Ocala, R Harper Rose is out of the Yes It’s True mare True Bliss, who has produced seven foals, six starters with four winners.

Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., R Harper Rose started her career by reeling off three consecutive victories in her 2-year-old season, including the $200,000 Susan’s Girl division of the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes going seven furlongs. Those three wins were by a combined 16 lengths. After finishing second when going two turns for the first time in the $300,000 My Dear Girl division of the Florida Sire Stakes, R Harper Rose took a two-month break before winning the Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream by two lengths while covering seven furlongs in 1:24.1. Not only did she become the 15th Florida-bred winner of the Forward Girl – and first since Pomeroy’s Pistol in 2011 – but the victory was not only was her fourth win in five starts, but it proved the quick filly could sit off the pace. She enters the Eight Belles off a second-place finish in the $102,000 Any Limit March 17 at Gulfstream.

Tyler Gaffalione gets the mount on R Harper Rose, who 12-1 on the morning line and breaks from post 12.

Halina’s Forte enters the Eight Belles off an eighth-place finish in the April 5 Ashland (G1) at Keeneland. Owned by Rigney Racing LLC and trained by Phil Bauer, Halina’s Forte is by Mitole out of another Yes It’s True mare, Lunarlady, who has four winners from six starters.

Bred in Florida by Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt of Houston and Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck of Morristown, the filly graduated from the training program at Eddie Woods Stable. The Vanlangendoncks sold Halina’s Forte at the 2022 Ocala Breeders’ Sale Winter Mixed Sale for $130,000 to Woodford Thoroughbreds. Woodford then consigned her at the 2023 Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale in July where Chenowith Run Stables purchased her for $250,000.

Halina’s Forte won her debut Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs and three weeks later finished second in Churchill’s Fern Creek. After shipping to New Orleans for a second-place finish in the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds. The filly opened her 3-year-old season with a victory in the Ruthless at Aqueduct Feb 17 before running in the Ashland.

Jose Ortiz has the mount on Halina’s Forte, who 10-1 on the morning line and is set to depart from post nine.

In order to win the Eight Belles, R Harper Rose and Halina’s Forte will likely have to continue to improve since they’ll be facing favorites Impel and Demin and Pearls, both trained by Brad Cox.

Juddmonte homebred Impel is a daughter of Quality Road who won her first two starts by 11 ¾ lengths before finishing a game third in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland on April 5. Impel has been close to the early pace in all her races. 

Demin and Pearls also won her first two starts before finishing her 2-year-old season with second place finishes in the $200,000 Years End and $250,000 Martha Washington, both at Oaklawn Park.

Ocala’s Jena Antonucci, who saddled Arcangelo to victory in last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1), saddles Do Gooder, who broke her maiden at Gulfstream at second asking over a sloppy track before finishing sixth in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).

Return to the May 2 issue of Wire to Wire