12/12/2012 3:47PM

Gulfstream Park: Fort Larned resting up for 2013 campaign

Tom Keyser
Fort Larned, under Brian Hernandez, holds off Mucho Macho Man in the BC Classic. He could return in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Fort Larned has taken up residence under trainer Ian Wilkes’s shed at the Palm Meadows training center. But don’t expect to see the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Eclipse Award candidate racing any time soon.

Fort Larned, a homebred owned by Janis Whitham, capped off a big year for both himself and Wilkes with a game half-length triumph over Mucho Macho Man in the Classic. The victory was the fifth in nine tries on the season for Fort Larned, who won the Grade 3 Skip Away here in late March and also captured the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

“He’s taking it nice and easy right now, just riding the shed,” Wilkes said Wednesday. “I’m going to sit down shortly with Mrs. Whitham, and we’ll make out a plan for the year working backwards from the Classic.”

Wilkes has already ruled out the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9 as a possible starting point for Fort Larned’s 2013 campaign.

“That’s just too early for me,” Wilkes said. “I started him out in February this season, and it probably cost me a little because I had to stop and freshen him up before the Jockey Club. But I wouldn’t rule out running him a little later in this meet – the Gulfstream Park Handicap could be a good place to start out.”

The Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap will be decided March 9.

Fort Larned’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup capped off a huge year for Wilkes that also included three graded stakes wins with Neck ’n Neck and another with Island Bound. Overall, Wilkes’s horses have earned more than $5.6 million in purses in 2012.

“It was a real good year; I couldn’t have asked for any better,” Wilkes said. “I’m very proud of all my horses and with everyone associated with our stable. The success we had isn’t just about me but was a team effort all around.”

Wilkes said he is hopeful Fort Larned will be rewarded with an Eclipse Award for his accomplishments in 2012.

“The competition is tough, but I think he can win the older male award,” Wilkes said. “Not only did he win the Classic and the Whitney, but he was competitive in every race he ran except the Stephen Foster. It won’t be the end of the world if we don’t win, but it would be nice to train my first champion. I’ve been associated with a lot of champions, but I’ve never trained one myself. It would also be special and a big honor for Mrs. Whitham if Fort Larned were to win an Eclipse.”

Wilkes said he will have to wait until the second half of the season before getting Neck ’n Neck back to the races. The 3-year-old son of Flower Alley recently had surgery to repair a fractured sesamoid discovered shortly after his final work prior to the Grade 1 Clark Handicap.

“The surgery went well and the prognosis is for him to be able to return next year at the same level he was at when injured,” Wilkes said. “The recovery process will be a slow one – four months before he can return to training – so we’re looking at a second-half campaign in 2013.”

Wilkes also has high hopes for a trio of 2-year-olds in his barn, To the Stars, Fiddler Blue, and Ruble, all of whom ran well in maiden races this fall at Churchill Downs.

“They’re all late-developing 2-year-olds, which is fine with me,” Wilkes said. “Hopefully, one or more of them will earn their way into some of the big 3-year-olds races here later this winter.”