Fort Larned Draws Post 3 for Whitney Defense
Janis Whitham's 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Fort Larned was assigned post 3 and installed as the 7-5 morning-line favorite during the draw for the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) to be run Aug. 3 at Saratoga Race Course.
The Whitney will be shown live on a one-hour telecast on NBC Sports from 5-6 p.m. ET.
Fort Larned, who upset last year's edition with a powerful stretch run at odds of 7-1, will take on seven others in the 1 1/8-mile event while carrying top weight of 122 pounds, including regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr.
Since its inaugural running in 1928, only three horses have managed to win the Whitney mutliple times. Commentator took the 2005-2008 editions, Kelso won in 1961, '63, and '65, and Discovery was the winner three seasons in a row, from 1934-36.
But Fort Larned, a 5-year-old homebred son of E Dubai , comes off a sparkling 6 1/4-length wire-to-wire victory in near-record time in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, and seems a formidable foe from the barn of trainer Ian Wilkes.
"He's tactical; he can sit behind (if needed)," Wilkes remarked following the July 31 draw. "Don't forget Mucho Macho Man is a fast horse, as well. All three speed horses drew on the inside here. It'll be up to Brian. He can sit; that's not a problem. It's just important to get out of the gates and have a good, clean break. That's probably the key to it all."
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing's Mucho Macho Man, second by a half-length to Fort Larned in the Classic, drew post 2 and carries a 119-pound impost with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado to ride. The 5-year-old Macho Uno horse was third in the June 14 Criminal Type Stakes at Belmont Park last time out, just his second start of the season after a layup following a dismal seventh in the slop in the Jan. 19 Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
"This year, we had a slow start," Ritvo said. "We ran into a track that was not to his liking. Then he came up with a virus. We restarted everything because he's such a good horse. He came back and had a really good race in the Criminal Type at Belmont. It was similar to his race in the Alysheba (gr. II) last year before he won the Suburban (gr. II). It was a good race, and it turned out to be a tough race. We were proud of his effort. I think it has set him up perfectly. I think he is doing as good as he did coming into the Woodward last year. He likes the track up here. He hasn't missed a work. It's a tough field, but he belongs here."
Goldmark Farm's lightly-raced Cross Traffic, runner-up a nose behind Sahara Sky in the May 27 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), is the 5-2 second choice from the 4 hole under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. The 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song has just four starts under his belt for trainer Todd Pletcher, all made in 2013, with two wins and two seconds, the latter in graded stakes. He carries 117 pounds.
"I'm pleased with the draw," Pletcher said. "I'm happy that we drew outside Fort Larned as I anticipate the two of us will be significant pace factors in the race."
Ron the Greek, second in the 2012 Whitney and third in the Stephen Foster last time out for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, returns to this race for Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, Jack Hammer, and Gary Barber. The Florida-bred 6-year-old son of Full Mandate has just one victory this year, an 11 1/4-length romp over a sloppy track in the Sunshine Millions Classic. In other starts of the season he was fourth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I)—a race he won last year—and third in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II). He finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic in his last start of 2012.
"I think he's like a lot of horses—I don't think he runs his best race every time," Mott said. "It seems like about every third shot he jumps up and runs a good one. Last year, actually, we felt after it was all said and done that the Whitney was probably his biggest race of the year, even though we were second. We got beat by a horse that was much better than us on the day. We thought on that particular day we were getting to him a little bit and swung a little bit wide. But we were pleased with his race and we hope he runs as good this year."
Successful Dan, fourth in the Stephen Foster for owner/breeder Morton Fink and trainer Charlie LoPresti, 2012 Travers (gr. I) dead-heat winner Alpha, Csaba, and Fast Falcon complete the field.
"I hope he shows up this time," LoPresti said of grade II winner Successful Dan, a half brother to 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan. "He didn't run his race at all at Churchill (in the Foster). He's never run a bad race, and Julien said he just wasn't handling the track. Nobody was going to beat Fort Larned that night. He was just an incredible horse that night.
"I'm a little worried about this one post. I would have liked to have been mid to outside, but that's the way it is. We'll see how they break and let Julien take it from there.
"He's pretty sharp right now...He has a lot of talent and when he's right, he's really good," LoPresti continued. "We've had some problems with him, but I think we've got him good right now. He likes it here. He's training really well. He's had two good breezes over the track. I think he's going to have a big effort. I hope he will, anyway."
The Whitney is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event for the Classic, which will be run Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.
$750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I, approximate post time 5:45 p.m. EDT), 3YOs & Up, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
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