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Updated on 11/06/2012 3:57PM
Breeders' Cup Classic: Fort Larned holds off Mucho Macho Man after stretch-long duel
ARCADIA, Calif. – Ian Wilkes learned his lessons well. Working for two decades under Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, Wilkes saw time and again, with horses like Kentucky Derby winners Unbridled and Street Sense, how to bring a horse, step by step, to a major goal. On Saturday at Santa Anita, it was time for Wilkes, and his horse Fort Larned to step up.
Both were ready. In the best performance of his life, Fort Larned took the track from his 11 rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and led the 1 1/4-mile race from start to finish, bravely holding off a stubborn Mucho Macho Man in a thrilling stretch drive to win the $5 million race by a half-length.
They were well clear of the rest of the field. Flat Out checked in third, 6 1/2 lengths farther back, and was followed, in order, by Ron the Greek, Richard’s Kid, Nonios, Game On Dude, Pool Play, Handsome Mike, To Honor and Serve, Brilliant Speed, and Alpha.
Fort Larned ($20.80), the fifth choice in the race, completed the distance on a fast main track in 2:00.11 after setting fractions of 23.20 seconds, 46.50, 1:10.12, and 1:34.66. He gave his jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr., who turned 27 Saturday, “the greatest birthday present ever.”
Fort Larned’s victory completed a tremendous weekend for horses based in New York and Kentucky, highlighted by victories Saturday by Wise Dan (Mile) and Groupie Doll (Filly and Mare Sprint), and Friday by Royal Delta (Ladies’ Classic). The win by Wise Dan, coupled with the disappointing performance by Game On Dude in the Classic, seems certain to bring Wise Dan the Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year.
Game On Dude completed a thoroughly forgettable weekend for his trainer, Bob Baffert, who was blanked with nine runners on Friday and Saturday, with only one of them, Executiveprivilege (Juvenile Fillies), finishing in the money.
Fort Larned, 4, began the year at Tampa Bay Downs, but steadily progressed through the year. Although he finished well back of Ron the Greek and Wise Dan in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June, he finished off the year with three wins in four starts, including the Whitney at Saratoga. He came into the Classic in prototypical Nafzger fashion, off a deceptively good third-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup that proved a means to an end.
“He was the master at pointing for a race,” Wilkes said of Nafzger, who is semi-retired but still trains a handful of horses for longtime clients. Working for him “you just had to take it all in,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes trains Fort Larned for Janis Whitham, who bred Fort Larned by sending her mare, Arlucea, to the sire E Dubai. Arlucea is a daughter of Bayakoa, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (now Ladies' Classic) who raced for Whitham and her late husband, Frank.
The Classic win was the eighth in 19 starts for Fort Larned, who Whitham said would remain in training next year.
Wilkes said he wanted Hernandez to make sure to get out of the gate cleanly and be assertive. “The most important thing I told Brian was to get out of the gate,” Wilkes said. “If we miss the break, we’re dead.”
He also told Hernandez, “Make a five-eighths-mile run. Don’t wait around.”
Fort Larned ran the final turn brilliantly, putting what proved to be a pivotal amount of daylight between he and Mucho Macho Man.
“The other horse just took off,” said Mike Smith, who rode Mucho Macho Man. “He has a quick turn of foot.”
Flat Out, ninth of 12 early, rallied belatedly for third, but was never a threat.
“Those two in front, they didn’t stop,” said Joel Rosario, who rode Flat Out. “I thought I was in a good position turning for home.”
Game On Dude, unbeaten in five previous starts at Santa Anita, broke a bit slowly, as he has done in the past, but worked his way into a striking position by the time the field turned up the backside. But he faded to finish seventh.
“I got him outside in the open,” said his jockey, Rafael Bejarano. “At the five-eighths, he was moving like he was going to win. But at the three-eighths, when I asked him, he was flat. I couldn’t understand it. Unbelievable.”
Watching replays like this, of any 2012 #BreedersCup race still gives ya #goosebumps if u were there like I. #horseracing
One of the poorest Classic fields in years in terms of star power. I liked 2 horses, the winner and The Greek. The latter is still trying to get past his stablemate. Macho Man had to settle for a minor award once again, and Mott might want to consider keeping To Honor and Serve at 1 1/8 or less if he returns next yr.
I don't find nothing wrong with the ride by Rafael Bejarano on Game On Dude. I can't believe people are criticizing Rafael Bejarano for his ride. He is a great rider but the horse wasn't the best horse in there. Some said that he's too overhyped or overrated. but I have to say IMO look at his 2005 breeders cup filly and mare turf ride on intercontinental, that was a masterpiece having the horse lone speed and the horse had never gone that long before and it won lone speed. That was when his name was starting to be out there as he was dominating the races in KY (churchill downs and keeneland) before coming here to Southern California.
The Classic went to Fort Lardned who won the Whitney Handicap over the summer and kept putting in great Beyer numbers. Him and Mucho Macho Man put in game races in defeat. Game On Dude didn’t break fast enough and didn’t seem to look good at all. Certainly age maybe catching up to the horse. Maybe today just wasn’t his day. He was the biggest disappointment in there along with Ron The Greek and To Honor and Serve. Nice ride by jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. who was the 2004 Eclipse Award winning Apprentice (Rookie) Jockey of that year. Nice to see him having continued success after that and great for trainer Ian Wilkes a former assistant to Carl Nafzger. Disappointing to see both Rafael Bejarano and Bob Baffert not win any Breeders Cups this year since they seemed the most live out of anybody then Joe Talamo not winning any BC races either since he seemed live in some races too. The only local riders that won BC races were Garrett Gomez, Aaron Gryder and Mike Smith. The CA horses didn’t seem to dominate either except they only had 1 win today and it was in the Turf Sprint. Nice attendance of 55,000 people on hand today and certainly IMO turned out better than I thought. I think for Horse of the Year, I think Wise Dan, Groupie Doll and Royal Delta certainly got to be in serious conversation for it. I think it’s tough but could it be a female again?
Great win for Fort Larned, Brian Hernandez Jr. and Ian Wilkes. But, what about Mr. Breeders' Cup Mike Smith? He's been 1st or 2nd in the last 4 Breeders' Cup Classic. What a rider with such an illustrious carrer.
Well the Classic was a great example of an honest race. At the six furlong marker you had three early pressers. Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man, and Game On Dude. In a route race this is the important spot for who is going to win. I knew Game On Dude would have trouble against real dirt horse from back east. You are not going to see Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Ian Wilkes or many other good trainers put their dirt horses on synthetic, like they have been doing with Game On Dude. I can believe Baffert blaming Bejarano for a bad ride like he did with Chantal! He did not win one race both days. Mandella beat him with Beholder and he got a place. Baffert’s head has been getting too big for a long time and having to kiss up to Zayat has burned out a lot of good horses. Repole was a sucker not to bring Stay Thirsty to the Classic. He could have come in the money. I am glad to see Animal Kingdom come back. He almost beat Wise Dan. Chantal got married and does not have to take any abuse by anyone anymore in Huntington Beach. I guess things all come out in the wash, don’t they!
After the race, Baffert was trying to blame Bejarano, but the holes just kept closing in front of Game On Dude in the first part of the race and he wasn't firing through them fast enough. Even with an ideal break and early race scenario, Game On Dude would not have kept up with the first two finishers in the homestretch, in my opinion. I have been touting Mucho Macho Man all year as the older horse with the most potential for the Classic. I would have picked Fort Larned if it had been 1 1/8 miles, but I thought at 1 1/4 miles, MMM would have the edge. So close. But MMM traveled farther, so he actually ran faster than the winner, anyway.
Baffert took Chantal Sutherland off Game On Dude when she lost her left rein in a stakes race at Del Mar and replaced her with Bejarano. Sutherland had real success with the horse and won the Big 'Cap last year with the Dude. I thought Baffert handled the situation all wrong and Saturday was a bit of a payback for him.
Whats wrong with racing ?? On "Undercover Boss " tv series -the CEO of Churchill Downs had never been to the barn area or seen a horse given a bath
Has there ever been worse Breeders Cup coverage?? On Versus ,who a whole lot of people don't have. Then, the coverage is delayed for 12 minutes on national tv for some bum.... college football game, that probably 200 people cared about! What lousy planning. No wonder folks are losing interest in horse racing..lousy tv coverage. Do the racing people realize that many viewers have cancelled their cable, due to the lousy economy? Racing is going to lose even more fans and potential fans, by making racing so unaccessable. Here's hoping that next year, they get it right and more coverage will be available to all.