An unfortunate stumble at the start of the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) last month cost Fort Larned his seasonal debut, but the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner is back in action in the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 13.
The 123-pound highlight will meet nine opponents in the 1 1/8-mile event, which is carded as race 8 on Saturday's Arkansas Derby program at Oaklawn Park. Post time for the Oaklawn Handicap is 4:14 p.m. CDT. Included in the field are two past winners of the race, defending champ Alternation and 2011 victor Win Willy.
Trainer Ian Wilkes says Fort Larned has completely recovered from the March 9 incident, in which the 5-year-old son of E Dubai went to the ground while unseating jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. It was to have been Fort Larned's first race since he scored a front-running 9-1 upset in the BC Classic by half a length over Mucho Macho Man at Santa Anita Park Nov. 3.
Wilkes, who said Fort Larned is "ready to go," has Hernandez back aboard the dual grade I winner once again.
"Brian fits this horse beautifully," said Wilkes, who is making his first trip back to Oaklawn in almost a decade. "He's a very good rider."
Fort Larned, a Kentucky homebred owned by Janis Whitham, arrived at the Hot Springs track from Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida April 8. He had a chance to breeze over the oval April 10, going a half-mile in an easy 51 seconds flat over a fast track. It was his fourth published drill since the mishap at Gulfstream Park.
"He's doing very well and I'm very pleased with him," said Wilkes.
Fort Larned, an eight-time winner from 20 starts with earnings of more than $3.6 million, will start from post 9 while spotting his rivals anywhere from six to 13 pounds.
Josephine Abercrombie's homebred Alternation, who won three consecutive races during last year's Oaklawn meet, looks to get back into form. In his only start this year for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, the 5-year-old Distorted Humor horse failed to fire while finishing fifth as the favorite in the March 9 Razorback Handicap (gr. III), a race he won last year.
Von Hemel sent the Pin Oak Stud product out for a half-mile breeze in :49 3/5 in his final tune-up April 9.
"I was happy with the way he went. It was nice and even and afterward, he wouldn't even blow out a match," he said.
Alternation was given a 75-day layoff after winning five of seven starts in 2012.
"You should see a better race from him than last time out," Von Hemel predicted.
The Razorback winner was Cyber Secret, victorious by a head at odds of 7-1 over Golden Ron. Both return for the Oaklawn Handicap.
Cyber Secret, owned by track president Charles Cella, brings a three-race win streak over the Oaklawn main track this year into the race for trainer Lynn Whiting. The 4-year-old Broken Vow colt posted his first stakes win last time out.
Golden Ron, trained by Marcos Medrano for owners Fred Radolovich and John Hill Sr., very nearly upset the Razorback at odds of 26-1.
Also coming out of the Razorback is third-place finisher Atigun, who tries blinkers this time for trainer Ken McPeek. Shortleaf Stable's 4-year-old son of Istan was beaten by just a half-length in the Razorback.
Win Willy, who skipped the Razorback, looks to halt a four-race losing skid for trainer McLean Robertson. The popular 7-year-old son of Monarchos has five wins and seven placings in 16 career starts at Oaklawn.
Calumet Farm's Optimizer returns to dirt after enjoying considerable stakes success on turf for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Gary Stevens rides from the far outside post.
$500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, approximate post 4:14 p.m. CDT), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Cyber Secret (KY), R Albarado, 115, L S Whiting
2. Unstoppable U (KY), V Lebron, 112, K G McPeek
3. Sabercat (KY), R Santana Jr., 112, S M Asmussen
4. Atigun (KY), R Bejarano, 114, K G McPeek
5. Alternation (KY), L S Quinonez, 117, D K Von Hemel
6. Golden Ron (KY), R A Vazquez, 110, M G Medrano
7. Taptowne (KY), C H Borel, 112, T Glyshaw
8. Win Willy (KY), M C Berry, 113, M Robertson
9. Fort Larned (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., 123, I R Wilkes
10. Optimizer (KY), G L Stevens, 113, D W Lukas
Equipment Change: No. 4, Atigun, Blinkers On