03/09/2013 7:06PM

Gulfstream: Discreet Dancer wins Handicap as Fort Larned loses rider at start

Eleanor Gustafson
A riderless Fort Larned streaks into the stretch of the Gulfstream Park Handicap while Discreet Dancer leads the remainder of the field en route to his official victory.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. --  Todd Pletcher was still in the Tampa Bay Downs winner’s circle following Verrazano’s smashing victory in the Tampa Bay Derby when the field, including his Discreet Dancer, broke for Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. And it’s surprising he was unable hear the gasp that went up from the crowd just seconds later when Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned stumbled badly just two strides out of the gate and unseated his jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

The startling turn of events somewhat tempered the tremendous performance of Discreet Dancer($5.80), who withstood an early speed duel with Fort Loudon before drawing away to a convincing 5 ¼-length decision over Swagger Jack in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Fort Loudon finished a tiring third followed by Gourmet Dinner and Decaf Again.

The win was the fifth of the day for jockey Javier Castellano.

The riderless Fort Larned recovered from his mishap at the gate to quickly run past the field midway down the backstretch, eventually crossing the finish line about a sixteenth of a mile in front of the field before pulling up around the turn. Fortunately both Fort Larned and Hernandez returned from the incident without any serious injuries.

“He grabbed that left front, not even on the bulb of the heel but up in the middle of the heel, way up high on the foot, that’s why he just went to his head,” said Wilkes. “Brian said it was the second jump. He just stumbled. He stood good, he just over-reached. Just getting fresh, just getting back to the races.”

Wilkes was surprisingly upbeat once able to check out Fort Larned and discover his injuries seemed to be superficial.

“He won, he won but I don’t think I’ll get paid, that’s the problem,” Wilkes quipped. “At least he didn’t run off the track. He’s a very intelligent horse. He came around the turn, finished up the race and then went out.”

Wilkes said it will take a couple of days to just make sure Fort Larned is okay before deciding on when or where he might run next.

Pletcher, by phone from Tampa, said he did not get to see the Gulfstream Park Handicap live and was only able to watch the last three furlongs of the head-on replay.

“I hate to win a race like that I really feel bad for the connections of Fort Larned,” said Pletcher. “Hopefully everything will be okay with their horse.”

Pletcher was elated, as expected, by the performance of Discreet Dancer who won for the fourth time in five career starts while recording his first graded stakes victory for the E Paul Robsham Stables.

“I was really pleased with the way he was training into the race, although you never think you can beat the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner,” said Pletcher. “But I was excited about running him and I’m glad he showed up as well as he did.”

Pletcher said he has no immediate plans regarding Discreet Dancer’s next start.