News & Barn notes

Forza Di Oro Returning From Lengthy Layoff In Saturday’s $250,000 Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes

August 18, 2022

The last time Forza Di Oro ran, he followed up a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup with a fifth-place showing in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes.

That was Oct. 2.

Following a 322-day layoff the 5-year-old son of Speightstown will mark his return – with new connections – in Saturday’s Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The 87th Iselin Stakes, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, has drawn a field of six, including the Chad Brown-trained Highly Motivated, who won the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup in his last start.

Previously trained by Bill Mott, Forza Di Oro arrived at Jerry Hollendorfer’s division at Monmouth Park the first week in June from WinStar Farm in Kentucky.

“He’s done really well since we got him,” said Dan Ward, who oversees Hall of Famer Hollendorfer’s string at Monmouth Park. “He came to us in excellent shape and we’ve taken our time getting him ready. He’s a good-looking horse.”

Forza Di Oro, who won the Grade 3 Discovery Stakes in 2020, is the mystery horse in the mile and a sixteenth race for 3-year-olds and up, with just eight career starts – four victories – and because of the lengthy layoff. But he does have the advantage of leading rider Paco Lopez on Saturday.

“Looking at his form I do see a few bad starts, antsy at the gate, hesitated, dwelt. We’ve taken him to the gate to school him at least 10 times just to make sure that he is behaving well,” said Ward, who has Hollendofer’s division third in the trainer standings with 20 wins, four behind current leader Claudio Gonzalez. “He’s a good work horse. Every time we’ve worked him Paco has been here to work him. He’s very excited about him. From the first time he worked him he said `any time this horse works I’d love to work him.’

“He has done a lot of work helping to get this horse ready,”

Ward is counting on a bit of home track help as well, along with knowing that Forza Di Oro has won twice off lengthy layoffs. He won an allowance at Belmont Park on Oct. 9, 2020 following a 307-day layoff and won an optional claimer at Saratoga on July 21, 2021 after being idle for 235 days.

“The good thing is that all of his works have been at Monmouth Park since we got him,” said Ward. “He has been at this track training every day. Hopefully that gives us a little bit of an advantage.

“If you look at his record he has won off layoffs. He seems to run well fresh.”

Owned by Don Alberto Stable, the Kentucky-bred Forza Di Oro will be making his first start outside of New York. He has banked $329,375 for his career.

“It looks like he can do anything – go to the front or come from behind, two turns, one turn, he runs well off layoffs,” said Ward. “He has a lot of class and he has run against some very good horses.

The Iselin Stakes field includes the Todd Pletcher-trained Promise Keeper, the winner of the 2021 Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes; 2021 Blue Grass Stakes runnerup Highly Motivated; recent Monmouth Park winner Sagamore Mischief; Deputed Testamony Stakes winner Ridin With Biden, and 2021 Salvator Mile winner Informative, who won that Grade 3 race at Monmouth Park last year at odds of 79-1.