09/25/2013 2:57PM

Churchill Downs: Albarado, Golden Ticket face tough task in Homecoming

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Golden Ticket (above) and Robby Albarado will have to run down Fort Larned in the Homecoming Classic on Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The distinct possibility of Fort Larned being the lone speed Saturday night in the inaugural Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs presents a familiar quandary for the opposition.

“It’s like being between a rock and a hard place,” said Robby Albarado, who has the mount on Golden Ticket, one of the more accomplished and tractable rivals facing Fort Larned in the $175,000 Homecoming. “You don’t want to compromise your finish by being the first one to contest him, but then you don’t want him to have it too easy out there, either. The problem is you never want to be the victim by hooking a fast horse like Fort Larned too soon.”

Therein lay the basics to how the 1 1/8-mile Homecoming Classic is likely to unfold as Fort Larned makes his final start before leaving for Santa Anita to defend his title in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2. Brian Hernandez Jr. will be back aboard Fort Larned for owner-breeder Janis Whitham and trainer Ian Wilkes.

Albarado expects Hernandez to send Fort Larned to the front. That’s a strategy that worked not only last year in the Breeders’ Cup, but also in June, when Fort Larned ran easily his best race of the year in winning the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill by 6 1/4 lengths.

“We’ll just have to see how the race shapes up and hope that Fort Larned comes back to us at some point,” Albarado said.

Albarado has never ridden Golden Ticket in a race but was aboard the colt last Saturday during a half-mile breeze in 49.80 seconds.

“I thought he got over the track really, really well,” he said.

Golden Ticket, trained by Ken McPeek, has had several big efforts, including a dead heat for win in the 2012 Travers and a 2 1/2-length score in an allowance race during Kentucky Derby week in May. He was second to Fort Larned in the Foster.

Golden Ticket and Prayer for Relief are expected to be the next wagering choices behind heavily favored Fort Larned in the Homecoming, which goes as the seventh of 11 races on a card that starts at 6 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Homecoming is 9:05, with the Grade 3 Jefferson Cup directly following as the eighth race. HRTV will have full coverage.

Matuszak hits hard in debut

Yes, the Bernardini colt named Matuszak, who won at first asking Saturday at Churchill for trainer Bill Mott, is named in honor of John Matuszak, the late football player who was a defensive star for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s and became a well-known character actor after his retirement in 1981. Matuszak rallied from far back to win the 1 1/16-mile maiden race by a neck.

Mott assistant Kenny McCarthy said his understanding is that owner George Prussin of New Jersey was “a big fan” of John Matuszak, who died in 1989 from an accidental drug overdose at age 48.

Sky Girl at Churchill

McCarthy said he has not been made aware of plans for a next race for Sky Girl, winner of the Grade 3 Dogwood here Saturday in her first start for new connections. The daughter of Sky Mesa remains at Churchill, where she is unbeaten in three starts. She rallied as an odds-on favorite in the Dogwood for her first stakes victory.

Meanwhile, Fusaichiswonderful, one of three scratches from the Dogwood, did not run to expectations Tuesday night at Mountaineer when finishing a distant fourth as the 1-2 favorite in a one-mile allowance.

Rough weekend

Trainer Angel Montano Sr. is glad to “turn the page,” as he said, on last weekend, when he and owner Clint Glasscock lost Wash Park, a 6-year-old gelding, to a fatal breakdown here on Saturday.

On Sunday, Glasscock and Montano sent out Smart Destiny to finish second as a 1-2 favorite in a starter-allowance.

Meanwhile, jockey Joe Rocco Jr., who rode Wash Park, was expected back Friday at Churchill after missing several days of riding from nagging injuries suffered in the spill.

Johnson held blameless in DQ

Jockey Joe Johnson has been held blameless for his role in the disqualification of his mount, Harlan’s Special, from first to third in the sixth race at Churchill last Friday.

Acting chief steward Barbara Borden said the stewards were satisfied with Johnson’s explanation that the starting gate stationed on the outer rail spooked Harlan’s Special, causing her to suddenly duck in and impede Cassatt. Harlan’s Special was sent off at 2-1.

Trainer wins with first starter

Phil Bauer won with the first starter of his training career when Cookie captured the second race Saturday at Churchill at 6-1 odds. Later that night, Bauer saw his second starter, Our Double Play, fade to eighth as the 3-1 second choice in the $400,000 Researcher Stakes at Charles Town.

Bauer, 28, had worked for the last several years as a top assistant to Ken McPeek before accepting a position as private trainer for the Rigney Racing of Richard and Tammy Rigney.

◗ The promising colt Big Lute is back in the entries for Saturday after being scratched from a similar race last week, when the track came up sloppy. Trainer Steve Hobby said track condition was the main reason for the scratch and that the 3-year-old colt is “ready to go” against nine others in the ninth race, a first-level allowance at seven furlongs.

◗ Friday at Churchill marks the seventh annual Ladies Day outing, with special events throughout the afternoon and proceeds going to the Backside Learning Center. Tickets are $75 per person. For more information, call (502) 634-6543.