One of the toughest assignments is coming off the bench and getting thrown into the heat of battle. Producing at any time is tough, but coming in cold, especially in big situations, and getting the job done is really challenging.
California has seen a few famous situations where an athlete produces in the clutch when he comes in cold. Perhaps the most famous was Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series. A hamstring injury had sidelined him but when Tommy LaSorda called on him in the bottom of the ninth against the best reliever in baseball, he grabbed his Louisville Slugger. Answering the call, this man limped to the plate and launched one of the most famous dingers in baseball history.
On August 21, 2021, Mo Forza came into the grade 2 Del Mar Mile having been on the sidelines for 10 months. Sometimes horses do come in and run well off long layoffs, but this was a tough field where only his “A” game could produce a win.
Trainer Peter Miller had guided this son of Uncle Mo to six wins in his last seven starts and has seen him become a real titan of the turf. One of those wins had come in this same race in 2020 so that made things even tougher as repeating in any race is a big challenge. Knowing his horse was in good enough shape for a race like this, the manager made the call and sent his slugger to the plate.
Breaking well on the Del Mar grass, the five-year old Mo settled in fourth as this talented field rolled through moderate early fractions (23.69 quarter mile, 48.62 half mile). At the top of the stretch, Miller’s Mo was down in the count as the ultra-talented Smooth Like Strait got the jump on him and rolled to the lead. It looked bleak at this point as the finish line was fast approaching.
“We knew coming in this was going to be a big challenge and that he might need a race to get back in top form”, says Miller. “This was a tough place to come back against a really salty field but we wanted to give him a chance.”
Inside the sixteenth pole, Mo got a fastball down Main street and he swung out of his shoes. Displaying that tremendous turn of foot that makes turf runners great, this grandson of Unusual Heat made up unbelievable amounts of ground with every stride. In perhaps the most exciting finish of the day, Mo Forza got a head in front at the wire. With eyes on the prize, the barrel of the bat met the heater and the dinger had been launched.
“He pulled a Kirk Gibson for sure because that certainly was a home run”, says a very proud Miller. “He gutted it out and just refused to lose. He wasn’t at his best, but great horses find a way to win.”
This victory marked his seventh trip to the winner’s circle in thirteen lifetime starts. The Breeders’ Cup Mile will also be contested on Del Mar’s Jimmy Durante Turf Course on November 6 and is a likely target for the heavy hitting Mo Forza.