06/16/2013 1:25PM

Churchill Downs: Fort Larned targeting Whitney after Foster win

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Fort Larned, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., wired the Stephen Foster Handicap for his first win of 2013.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The wire-to-wire victory by Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster Handicap last Saturday night at Churchill Downs was similar to his performance last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – even down to the Beyer Speed Figure.

Fort Larned, with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding, earned a 115 Beyer for his 6 1/4-length triumph over Golden Ticket in the Grade 1, $536,300 Stephen Foster. His front-running half-length score over Mucho Macho Man in the 2012 BC Classic at Santa Anita got him a career-high 117.

Trainer Ian Wilkes said Sunday that all was well with his 5-year-old stable star, whose earnings soared past the $4 million mark with his ninth win from 22 career starts, all for owner and breeder Janis Whitham.

“We were the real speed of the race, and we wanted to take it to them and hopefully get him back on track,” said Wilkes, alluding to two off-the-board finishes that began the 2013 campaign for Fort Larned.

Wilkes said he is pointing Fort Larned to the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga Aug. 3 and, down the line, back to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

The Foster was the first Win and You’re In event of the year in North America for the two-day Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, giving Fort Larned an expenses-paid berth to defend his title in the $5 million BC Classic.

Meanwhile, Golden Ticket, who earned a career-high 105 Beyer for his runner-up effort in the Foster, “might run in the Whitney, but I’m not really sure,” trainer Ken McPeek said.

“He ran great, and he showed he belongs with that kind,” McPeek said. “Ideally, I’d like to maybe get a couple easier spots, maybe a couple of Grade 3’s, and get him to the Classic that way. But we’ll think about it.”

Third-place finisher Ron the Greek, along with stablemate Royal Delta, was scheduled to return Tuesday to the main Bill Mott string in New York, with a next race to be determined. “Maybe the Whitney,” said Mott, who already was back in New York on Sunday.

Successful Dan (fourth) also could run in the Whitney, according to trainer Charlie LoPresti, which most likely confirms his stablemate, 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan, for the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap on the Churchill turf June 29.

LoPresti said beforehand that if Successful Dan won the Foster and earned the expenses-paid berth into the Classic, then he may have skipped the Firecracker with Wise Dan and moved him to the dirt for the Whitney.

Easily the biggest disappointment of the Foster was Take Charge Indy, the 19-10 favorite who gave closest chase to Fort Larned for most of the way before finishing last of six, 20 lengths behind the winner.

“Nobody was going to beat the winner,” said trainer Pat Byrne, adding that the colt was fine Sunday. “We’re not in any hurry to run anytime soon. We tip our hat to the winner.”

As for Royal Delta, the 2012 Eclipse Award divisional winner was handed a five-length defeat by the front-running Funny Proposition in Saturday night’s Fleur de Lis.

“I have no excuses,” said Mott, adding that the mare still could run July 20 in the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap, as originally planned.

Funny Proposition, trained by Mark Casse, earned a 90 Beyer for her first stakes win.

Here are the Beyers for some of the other winners Saturday: Code West (Matt Winn), 92; Kitten’s Dumplings (Regret), 91; Magical Moon (allowance), 86; Speedinthruthecity (allowance), 82; and Lent (maiden), 77.

Lent is a 3-year-old half-brother to Fort Larned, having been produced by the mare Arlucea, and has the same human connections (Whitham, Wilkes, Hernandez).