Janis Whitham's Fort Larned completed serious preparation for this week's bid for consecutive victories in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park with a five-furlong workout under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. early Oct. 28 at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old homebred son of E Dubai was among Monday's earliest workers as he went to the track at approximately 6:40 a.m. (all times EDT) and cruised five furlongs over a fast track in 1:01 4/5. Fractional splits for Fort Larned's work were :12 3/5, :25 1/5, and 3 3/5. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 4/5.
The move was the third by Fort Larned since Oct. 19 and trainer Ian Wilkes was happy with both the work and the condition of his star heading into the 2013 running of the Classic Nov. 2.
"Today was not to squeeze the lemon dry; it was to get the horse coming off the track wanting to do more," Wilkes said. "Today he walked off like he was wanting to do more, so I was happy."
"He worked great this morning," Hernandez said. "He went just like Ian wanted him to. He cruised right around there to five-eighths and it looks like he's going into the Classic like he did last year."
Fort Larned led from the start and edged Mucho Macho Man by a half-length in last year's Classic. He's had an up-and-down 2013 season with two victories in five races. Both of those wins were at Churchill Downs in the $536,300 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. I) and the new $191,275 Homecoming Classic, his most recent race during the September meet.
He set the pace in both of his 2013 victories, which has led some to question if his running style fits in this year's 1 1/4-mile Classic, a race populated with speedy horses such as Horse of the Year frontrunner Game On Dude, who has not lost in six races since a disappointing run in the 2012 Classic, and Moreno, the 3-year-old runner-up in the Travers (gr. I) and Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II).
But Wilkes is confident Fort Larned is where he needs to be and has the ability to adapt to any tactical scenario the Classic might present.
"He can do whatever you want with him," Wilkes said. "He can lay off, he can sit behind or he can go to the lead. Last year he ran along (the half-mile) in :46. When you run along at that sort of pace—that's racehorse time—and if someone wants to go with him, go with him. But he can sit behind, it doesn't matter. I'm not concerned about that."
With Monday's breeze, the serious work for the Classic is completed. The next step is a Tuesday flight to Southern California and then light training over the Santa Anita course prior to Fort Larned attempting to equal the feat of Tiznow , who won back-to-back Classics in 2000-01 and remains the only horse to do so.
"I'm very excited," Hernandez said. "This is what we get up in the morning for, to compete in big races like this and to go in there with the defending champion is very exciting."
"I feel good," Wilkes said. "The horse is right where you want him. He's doing really well. I'm very pleased with him."
Fort Larned's career record heading into the Classic stands at 10-2-1 in 24 races with earnings of $4,171,322.
In other news, Mort Fink's reigning Horse of the Year and Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Wise Dan will be among seven horses to accompany Fort Larned on the flight to California for Breeders' Cup races.
The Charles LoPresti-trained Wise Dan will bid for a second straight victory in the Mile.
The Sutton Forwarding Company flight will originate in New York with a stop scheduled in Louisville before it heads on to its final destination in Southern California.
Others scheduled to board the flight in Louisville (with Breeders' Cup races) are: Dimension (Turf Sprint [gr. I]), Havelock (Turf Sprint), Judy the Beauty (Filly & Mare Sprint [gr. I]), Medal Count (Juvenile [gr. I]), Starship Truffles (Filly & Mare Sprint [gr. I]), and Sum of the Parts (Sprint [gr. I]).