Fort Larned

Fort Larned

Anne M. Eberhardt

Fort Larned Breezes in Saratoga Slop

BC Classic winner is on track for Aug. 3 Whitney Invitational title defense.

On a rainy morning at Saratoga Race Course, 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned  breezed five furlongs over the sloppy main track.

New York Racing Association clockers caught the 5-year-old son of E Dubai in 1:01.19 July 23 with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in the irons for trainer Ian Wilkes. He was one of only six horses to work at Saratoga as showers deluged the Capital Region; Wilkes also sent out Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) contender Looking Cool on behalf of trainer Carl Nafzger, and the Candy Ride  colt went five furlongs in 1:01.76.

Coming off a speedy victory in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, Janis Whitham's homebred Fort Larned is prepping for a title defense in the Aug. 3 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I).

"The other day I didn't quite get the work I wanted; I sort of felt like I was a little behind the eight ball and I felt like this work was important," Wilkes said. "Brian flew up to work him and we got out early, around 5:30 a.m. The track was sealed and he jogged him over it and said it felt good, so I told him, 'Just keep him off the fence where it gets washed down a bit.' I got the work I wanted and the horse went great, galloped out strong. I got everything I wanted to see today."

Fort Larned will have one more pre-race move before the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Classic to be run Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.

"He'll do something next week, but I've got a window now," Wilkes said. "If I didn't get this work today it would have felt like I was chasing my tail. This way, I have a couple different days I can come back and fit in a work, watch the track, watch the weather. A lot will depend on how he's doing going forward."

In the Stephen Foster last time out, Fort Larned led gate to wire to win by 6 1/4 lengths while finishing the 1 1/8-mile test in 1:47.45, second in stakes history only to Victory Gallop's 1:47.28 in 1999. In the Whitney, a race he upset last year at odds of 7-1 with a 1 1/4-length victory over Ron the Greek, the big bay could face Mucho Macho Man  (second in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic), Flat Out , Ron the Greek, Cross Traffic , Alpha , and Successful Dan.

"You go from being the hunter to the hunted," Wilkes joked of Fort Larned's position in the Whitney this year. "He's proven he's at the top of his division, but whenever you put up money in a grade I, they don't hand them to you. He has to step up every time he runs."

Fort Larned, bred in Kentucky out of the Broad Brush mare Arlucea, had a rough start to the 2013 season when he lost Hernandez at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) and then ran fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II). The Stephen Foster was his third start of the year and improved his record to 9-2-1 from 22 starts, with earnings of $4,031,417.

"He's a more seasoned horse than last year; he ran (third) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and won the Breeders' Cup Classic and then he was able to overcome some adversity in his first two starts of the year and run a bang-up race in the Foster," Wilkes said. "He's more battle-tested. After the Foster, I feel like he's back to where he used to be, and that's a good feeling."