09/28/2013 8:49PM

Churchill Downs: Fort Larned has a happy Homecoming

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Fort Larned, with Brian Hernandez aboard, will move on to a defense of his title in the Breeders' Cup Classic after a front-running victory in the Homecoming.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Fort Larned passed his final test in preparation for a shot at a Breeders’ Cup repeat when leading throughout as a huge favorite Saturday night in the inaugural running of the $191,275 Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs.

Fort Larned used his superior speed to open a lead of about six lengths down the backstretch of the 1 1/8-mile race before finishing 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Windswept. The 5-year-old Fort Larned returned $2.60 to win after finishing in 1:48.58 over a fast track.

Fort Larned now will make his final career start at Santa Anita in the Nov. 2 BC Classic, the race he won last year in wire-to-wire fashion.

“We were just using this to move forward,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner-breeder Janis Whitham. “Hopefully this helps him.”

Breaking from post 4 in a field of six older horses, Fort Larned set fractions of 23.50 seconds, 47.15, and 1:10.49 before Worldly, a 27-1 shot, began to gradually cut into the margin on the far turn. As that bid stalled, the next threat came from Windswept, who closed steadily to make the final result anything but a blowout.

“Down the lane I thought maybe Fort Larned was coming back to me and I had a shot,” said Corey Lanerie, who rode Windswept. “But he held on. My horse ran an awesome race.”

Worldly held well to be third, another 2 1/4 lengths back, and was followed by Agent Di Nozzo, Prayer for Relief, and Pool Play. Golden Ticket, the second program choice, was scratched from the Homecoming to run instead in the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.

Fort Larned, by E Dubai, carried high weight of 125 pounds when spotting his opposition two to four pounds. He earned $117,405 with his 10th victory from 24 career starts, pushing his career bankroll to $4,171,322. In his prior start, he was fifth as the 6-5 favorite in the Aug. 3 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

Sunday closes out the 12-day September meet with a 10-race program that starts at 12:45 p.m. Eastern. Live action on the Kentucky circuit moves Friday to Keeneland.