Janis Whitham's defending Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned returned to the track Sept. 7 at Churchill Downs, site of his dominant victory this year in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), to resume preparations for a bid at consecutive victories in the Classic at Santa Anita Park in early November.
The gallop by the 5-year-old son of E Dubai was Fort Larned's first journey to the track since trainer Ian Wilkes announced Aug. 29 that a muscle strain would knock his star out of a planned run in the Aug. 31 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.
"He got back [to Churchill Downs] on Wednesday...and I tracked him today," Wilkes said. "He looked good."
The Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic remains the ultimate goal for Fort Larned, but Wilkes has the $750,000-added TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Sept. 28 penciled in as a near-term objective. Whether he makes that race will depend on his progress over his home track at Churchill during the next few days.
Fort Larned's 6 1/2-length victory in the Stephen Foster remains his only win in four starts this year, but Wilkes continues to express strong confidence in his horse. He finished fifth to Cross Traffic as the favorite in the Aug. 3 Whitney (gr. I) at Saratoga, a race he won in 2012, and finished fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) after stumbling at the start and tossing jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his season debut in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) on March 13.
Fort Larned ran nine times in 2012 and posted a 5-1-1 record, including a third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, for earnings of $3,598,455.
"I really believe that he's as good as last year," Wilkes said. "It's just been one of those years. If we could start over again—you know, get a 're-do,' we'd be fine. Boy, it's been a bumpy road."
The career record for Fort Larned stands at 9-2-1 in 23 starts with earnings of $4,053,917.