ELMONT, N.Y. - European import Wake Forest unleashed a tenacious rally from the back of the pack in his Belmont Park debut to grab his first North American win and top a Chad Brown-trained exacta with a one-length victory over stablemate Money Multiplier in the Grade 1, $400,000 Man o' War on Saturday.
Off a step slow at the break, German-bred Wake Forest saved ground at the back of the nine-horse field, trailing an early pace set by Go Around who led the group through an opening quarter-mile in 24.24 seconds. Tracked closely by Money Multiplier, the leader covered the half-mile in 49.24 and six furlongs in 1:13.83.
Wake Forest picked up steam in the far turn as the field converged at the top of the stretch. Deftly navigated by Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez, Wake Forest angled off the hedge and charged down the lane to sweep past his stablemate in the final yards.
"We know he doesn't break really well," said Velazquez, "so it was a perfect opportunity to put him behind horses and save ground and hopefully, down the lane, we'd get some sort of seam where we could let him run. When he got the little seam he just exploded."
Wake Forest was a two-time stakes winner in his native Germany when he arrived in Chicago last summer for the Arlington Million on August 15. Following his sixth-place finish in the Million, the horse joined Brown's stable and opened his 6-year-old season for new connections in the Grade 2 Pan American at Gulfstream in April, barely missing Kaigun by a neck under a late-closing charge.
"Getting a race under his belt, running such a hard race coming off a layoff and then having six weeks helped," said Brown. "The whole thing came together nicely. Everything worked out for this horse today. He's got a lot of talent, Grade 1 talent."
The German-bred son of Sir Percy could make his next Grade 1 appearance at Belmont in four weeks, said Brown, in the $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan, a 1 ¼-mile turf contest on Belmont Stakes Day, June 11.
"I think he can cut back further in the Manhattan," Brown said. "I have to see what group of horses that I would point towards there, but this horse would be at the top of the list."
Owned by Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners and Bethlehem Stables, the winner completed the 1 3/8-mile turf route in 2:12.94 to return $6.30 for a $2 win wager. Wake Forest boasts a lifetime record of 7-1-1 from 13 starts and earnings of $603,066.
Can'thelpbelieving checked in third, a length behind Money Multiplier, followed by Up With the Birds, Closing Bell, Kaigun, Morandi, Go Around and Biz the Nurse to complete the order of finish.