06/15/2013 10:42PM

Churchill Downs: Fort Larned proves uncatchable in Stephen Foster

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
Fort Larned, with Brian Hernandez aboard, misses the track record for 1 1/8 miles by .17 of a second in his Stephen Foster romp.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Rendering his two season-opening efforts a distant memory, Fort Larned returned to his Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning form Saturday night with a dominating wire-to-wire triumph in the 32nd running of the Grade 1, $536,300 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Fort Larned, trained by Ian Wilkes for owner-breeder Janis Whitham, sped to an open lead into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster and never looked back, widening at the whim of jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. when prevailing by 6 1/4 lengths in what is widely regarded as the leadoff race to the second half of the North American racing season.

Fort Larned returned $8.60 as fourth choice in a field of six after finishing in 1:47.45, second in stakes history only to the 1:47.28 by Victory Gallop in 1999.

“He’s back,” a grinning Wilkes said upon being greeted by a very happy mob in the winner’s circle.

Golden Ticket, the 11-1 fifth choice, rallied steadily to be a clear second, four lengths before late-closing Ron the Greek (3-1). Successful Dan (5-2) was fourth, Pool Play (35-1) was fifth, and Take Charge Indy, the 9-5 favorite who gave closest chase to Fort Larned most of the way, faded to last.

Fort Larned won the 2012 BC Classic at Santa Anita by leading throughout, holding on grimly to win by a half-length. This one was much easier – and perhaps nearly as satisfying – since it followed two off-the-board finishes at Gulfstream Park (when he tossed Hernandez at the start) and Oaklawn Park (when he was a dull fifth) to start his 5-year-old campaign.

“He was just cruising,” said Hernandez, who doled out the speed in splits of 23.69 seconds, 46.96, and 1:10.48 over the fast going. After Fort Larned turned for home with about a two-length lead, “I hit him left-handed like I usually do to make him switch over to his right lead. And off he went.

“When he worked on Monday, I knew we had a great chance. We talked it over and thought the best plan was just to take it to ‘em. The thing to do was let him be fast. He’s a fast horse, and that’s what he showed tonight.”

The Foster is the first Win and You’re In event of the year in North America toward the two-day Breeders’ Cup championships at Santa Anita, meaning Fort Larned now has an automatic expenses-paid berth to defend his title in the $5 million BC Classic on Nov. 2.

Wilkes said before the Foster that he was likely to prep Fort Larned for the Classic by running in two or three straight races in New York: the Whitney and/or Woodward at Saratoga, followed by the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont.

However, “I’m just going to enjoy this tonight and think about all that some other day,” he said.

The Foster romp also helped erase the poor effort Fort Larned gave last year in this race when finishing last of eight, 12 lengths behind the victorious Ron the Greek.

“This was huge for Ian after what happened here last year and because it’s our hometown track,” said Hernandez.

Fort Larned, a bay horse by E Dubai, now has won 9 of 22 career starts. He earned $329,181, lifting his bankroll to $4,031,417. His margin of victory was second in stakes history only to the 6 1/2-length win by Street Cry in 2002.

The $2 exacta (2-1) paid $69.40; the $1 trifecta (2-1-3) returned $208.40; and the 10-cent superfecta (2-1-3-6) was worth $32.35.

Ontrack attendance was not immediately available, although the evening had every bit the feel of a big crowd, perhaps more than 25,000.

 Earlier in the evening, the connections of 2013 Derby winner Orb were given their engraved trophies in winner’s circle presentations. They were jockey Joel Rosario, trainer Shug McGaughey, and Daisy Phipps Pulito, the daughter of Ogden Mills Phipps, who bred and owns Orb in partnership with his cousin, Stuart Janney III.

Rosario and McGaughey arrived late because of a travel delay, causing Rosario to miss his first three scheduled mounts on the card.




Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
I realize that I'm commenting here a week after this race, but I've been reading some about Fort Larned and noticed a pattern that I see all too frequently in these articles. Why is it that when speaking of a horse's "parentage," the sire seems to get the most mention...almost without exception? Fort Larned's dam, Arlucea, has 7-figure parents even though she wasn't much herself. E Dubai, not quite a million. And his parents, not even close to 7 figures. Is it just for the sake of expediency and possible ramping up of stud fees for E Dubai or am I missing some sort of understanding about pedigrees, do, please, enlighten me.
Mike Lee More than 1 year ago
Impressive!!! ...people were complaining a bit 'cause the Foster drew such a small field, This race might as well have had one entry...Fort Larned...hes baaaaaaaack!!
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
I understand Fort Larned did not come into this race in solid form, but the weakest point of his form cycle is still better than Take Charge Indy's best.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Take Charge Indy's two-turn wins were accomplished by going to the lead and setting modest fractions (for the track and day), then sprinting home the last 4f. He couldn't do that last night - a better, faster horse took it to him early and he wilted.
MJP More than 1 year ago
Victory Gallop's time of 1:47.28 is not only the stakes record but the track record and easily one of the best races of any horse over the past several decades. Last year in this race, Nate's Mineshaft got the lead and Fort Larned chased. I think it's pretty obvious now that this horse wants to be on the lead (note to connections) and should not be rated (witness also the Oaklawn debacle).
Mine thatbird More than 1 year ago
Great race by FL. Unfortunately, I had TCI but recognized FL would be unbeatable if he ran back to form. Nice to see him back on track; even with his early bad luck is he the best dirt horse right now? at least until Wise Dan gives it another go.
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
It was wonderful to see the Fort Larned of the 2012 Breeders' Cup back at his full strength! I'm a big fan of Fort Larned. Unlike some, I was not very concerned that Fort Larned had a couple of off outings. I thought he would eventually get back to where he had been in November. The sight of him battling Mucho Macho Man, live, in the Breeders' Cup Classic has always been an image that stayed with me. The image of this win by Fort Larned will join that memory in my mind, because this win in the Stephen Foster was a pretty powerful win (at a very surprisingly generous 3-1, at that). Congratulations to Fort Larned, Brian Hernandez, Jr., and Fort Larned's connections on this impressive win. Fort Larned saved his best performance of the year, so far, on the "Win and You're In" win for entry in the 2013 Breeders' Cup. Great timing, Fort Larned! I thought Golden Ticket made a nice showing for himself as well in this race. He was the only horse closing into Fort Larned's pace. Golden Ticket is always being pooh-poohed by the media and is always lightly regarded by the general public because of that reason, but Golden Ticket is a horse with talent and he makes his unexpected presence felt in big races. Golden Ticket always seems to go off at generous odds, but he shows up for big races. The Stephen Foster was no different. He's improving, too. Joel Rosario has pulled two straight excellent races out of him. Twenty Thirteen looks to be an excellent year on the improve for Golden Ticket. I'm looking forward to big things from him this year, just like I do from Fort Larned. Congratulations again, Fort Larned! It's great to have you back in great form again, champ!
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Brilliant observations for two brilliant turns from FL and GT!
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Susan. I appreciate your insight. Have a great day!
denali1 More than 1 year ago
Oh ya he is back good to see FL runs his race. I agree with you Mr. Cook when this horse settles into his surroundings he gets comfy and runs his race. Very impressive race! Congrats FL and his connections! I would love to see him at the Spa again this year.
aaronrayk More than 1 year ago
Has to be a 110+ beyer
aaronrayk More than 1 year ago
115 beyer for Fort Larned
aaronrayk More than 1 year ago
I said it earlier on one of these posts, and I'll say it again. There is NO WAY you are going to beat this horse if he is on the lead.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Yep. Another Game On Dude. The next BC Classic is probably over after 1/4 mile.
aaronrayk More than 1 year ago
speed demons. Might have to resort to the Dirt mile.
Ronald Dodgen More than 1 year ago
The field turned out weak, Successful Dan one to many operations, Ron The Greek has never run fast other than the slop or needs quicksand, Take Charge Indy can't put two good races together.
Lawrence Macselwiney More than 1 year ago
It would have taken more than a good race from Indy to win today. Nobody was beating Fort Larned. He ran them into the ground. I've never thought too highly of this horse until today. Brilliant effort!
Jordan More than 1 year ago
There's some truth to that. And undoubtedly, Fort Larned is not going to get such an uncontested lead in a race like the BC Classic or any race involving Game on Dude. Yes, Fort Larned set quick fractions, but he was left completely uncontested. Against bigger and better fields, there will likely be someone breathing down his neck, and pace pressure can make fractions that would be slower than the Foster more demanding. If everyone stays healthy and Mike Smith doesn't freeze like Bejarano did when Game on Dude broke slowly in the 2012 BC Classic, a Fort Larned-Game on Dude pace clash looks inevitable in this year's Classic. Fort Larned may be just a tad quicker than Dude, and he obviously got the better of him in last year's Classic. But Fort Larned is not as consistent as Dude and not nearly as accomplished, owning 5 career graded stakes wins compared to Game on Dude's 11(5 gr.1).
Horse Cents More than 1 year ago
All grade 1's are not created equal.
Kevin Tucker More than 1 year ago
Ft larned dusted game on dude by a mile in the BC last year.
MJP More than 1 year ago
No, Take Charge Indy is simply nowhere near as good as Fort Larned. If you simply look at the fractions of the Alysheba, TCI got to cruise along in 48.3. No way in hell he was ever going to get such a comfortable trip with FL (rare, true Grade 1 router speed) in the race. TCI was bound to quit. He's a good horse, but pretty much a Grade 2 horse, not in FL's class.