Discreet Dancer picked up the pieces of an incident-marred running of the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park March 9 when Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned stumbled at the start, dropped jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. over his right shoulder, and was declared a non-finisher (VIDEO).
Fort Larned, the 4-5 favorite, grabbed a left front quarter in the incident but appeared otherwise uninjured. He recovered from the spill to race up the rail and easily outdistanced the other five older horses, crossing the finish line of the one-mile event in front by a pole.
E. Paul Robsham Stables' Discreet Dancer broke true from post 4 outside the troubled contender, and quickly assumed a stalking spot just off the lead of Fort Loudon. That one showed the way through an opening quarter of :24 flat and a half in :47.26 as Fort Larned raced riderless far ahead of the field.
"My plan was to break out of the gate and get a good position because my horse is a speed horse," jockey Javier Castellano said. "My goal was to wait for Fort Larned and see where he would go. I had a beautiful post in the race and could do whatever I wanted.
"Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for Fort Larned, he stumbled out of the gate really bad. Thank God both him and Brian are OK. When I saw the horse stumble I thought I would be able to win, so I held my horse and didn't let him go too fast, trying to save something for the end. It worked out perfect for us."
After pressing the pace, Discreet Dancer moved to take over on the turn through three-quarters in 1:11.68. He was two lengths in front coming through the stretch after seven-eighths in 1:23.37, and drew off to a 5 1/4-length victory over Swagger Jack. Fort Loudon held for third, 6 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
It was Discreet Dancer's fourth victory in five starts for earnings of $313,150. He won for the second time since his return to the races last month following a one-year layoff. The 4-year-old son of Discreet Cat spent time of the sidelines after finishing third in the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) last February. Bred in Florida by the winning connections, he is out of the Gone West mare West Side Dancer.
"We were pleased with his first back," trainer Todd Pletcher said of a Feb. 6 allowance win that prepped Discreet Dancer for his second victory off the layup. "We thought it was a good performance and we thought he'd move forward for this race. We benefited from the bad luck for the Breeders' Cup Classic winner, but we're happy to win and we felt he was going to give us a good effort today."
Wilkes reported Fort Larned would be evaluated for injury but appeared to have only suffered a grabbed quarter in the middle of his left front heel.
"His second jump he just overreached and stumbled," Wilkes said. "Brian said he stood well and was just fresh getting back to the races. This was the first time anything like this has happened. We just want to make sure he's OK most importantly. It'll take a few days to make sure he's OK because he fell on his head."
Hernandez, who was not injured in the incident, said Fort Larned gave no inclination in the warm-up that troubles were ahead.
"The second jump out of the gate he stumbled really bad and fell on his face," Hernandez reported. "I don't know what else to say. It's really weird because he warmed up better today than he did before the (Breeders' Cup) Classic. He was really on his toes. He did everything right until that moment."