09/09/2013 5:49PM

Breeders' Cup Classic: Fort Larned will look to get back on track in Gold Cup

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Fort Larned's explosive Stephen Foster victory has been one of the few bright sports in a season of missteps.

Little has gone right for Fort Larned since he won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Fort Larned still has time to get right and properly defend his Classic crown Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

Fort Larned on Saturday morning at Churchill Downs trained for the first time since a pulled hind-end muscle forced his withdrawal Aug. 29 from the Aug. 31 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. Trainer Ian Wilkes plans to send Fort Larned to the Sept. 28 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park -- but little Wilkes has planned this season has unfolded as envisioned.

Fort Larned stumbled and unseated jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. making his seasonal debut in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. He turned in a flat performance over a tricky racing surface in his second race, finishing a distant fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap, and prior to his Woodward defection, Fort Larned ran below his best form finishing fifth in the Whitney Invitational Handicap. A runaway victory June 15 in the Stephen Foster Handicap provided the only bright spot in an otherwise frustrating campaign.

Wilkes’s approach to the Jockey Club Gold Cup figures to be different than last year. In 2012, Fort Larned was coming off a peak performance in the Whitney: Wilkes merely wanted a bridge to the Classic, a race that wouldn’t tax his horse too greatly. This season, Fort Larned will enter the Jockey Club Gold Cup with three fewer starts than he had this time last year, and his only peak effort came in mid-June. Wilkes might desire a stronger showing.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup is shaping up as a mini-BC Classic: Cross Traffic, Flat Out, Alpha, Orb, Will Take Charge, Palace Malice, and Ron the Greek all could run. The only major Classic contender that won’t be there is Game On Dude, who kept his unbeaten season alive with a dominant win in the Aug. 25 Pacific Classic and won’t race again until the BC Classic. That’s a deviation from the course trainer Bob Baffert charted on the way to Game On Dude’s second-place Classic finish in 2011 and disappointing seventh-place showing last year: Both times, Game On Dude made an October start at Santa Anita.

Besides Fort Larned’s return to training, the only real Classic news last week came from Ireland, where Declaration of War was scratched by trainer Aidan O’Brien about 90 minutes before the Irish Champion Stakes because of wet conditions. O’Brien had mentioned the Classic as a possible target for Declaration of War just after the 4-year-old colt won the Aug. 21 Juddmonte International in England.