Trainer Ian Wilkes said Sept. 17 that Janis Whitham's Fort Larned , winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), will have his final prep for this year's Classic in the newly established $175,000 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs Sept. 28.
Wilkes had originally planned on running the 5-year-old son of E Dubai the same day in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I), in which he finished third last year en route to his victory in the Classic at Santa Anita, but decided on the 1 1/8-mile Homecoming Classic after seeing the horse work at Churchill.
Fort Larned breezed five furlongs in :59 4/5 the morning of Sept. 17, co-second fastest time among 29 working at that distance.
"I always knew this race was here," Wilkes said. "The plan was to go to the Jockey Club Gold Cup just like last year. I spoke to Mrs. Whitham to discuss what the best step would be to get to the Classic. I wanted to see how he worked at Churchill and when he worked good, we decided to stay home and run here. This way we don't have the extra ship to New York before flying to California.
"It's tough to pass the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I'd love to win it, because it's such a prestigious race. But sometimes you have to do what's best for the horse. If he were to repeat and win the Classic again I would appreciate this one a little more than last year because it's been a such a roller coaster ride this year."
The roller coaster ride began in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) when Fort Larned stumbled badly at the start, unseating his rider and running off far ahead of the field. That was followed by a dismal fifth-place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II). But just when doubts about the horse began to seep in, he responded by romping by 6 1/4 lengths in the Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. I). The roller coaster then plunged again when he finished a disappointing fifth in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) as the 6-5 favorite.
"It's been quite a year, but we do know that he's absolutely brilliant on his day," Wilkes said.
Fort Larned, who also was bred by Whitham, has won nine of his 23 career starts with earnings of $4,053,917.