03/01/2013 2:48PM

Gulfstream Park: Fort Larned scares off most challengers in Gulfstream Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned may have to face as few as four opponents when he makes his 2013 debut in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – It appears the imposing presence of reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Fort Larned will keep the starting lineup to a minimum in next Saturday’s Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Even with Mucho Macho Man not returning to defend his title in the one-mile Gulfstream Handicap after taking ill earlier this week, racing secretary Dan Bork may have his hands full finding as many as five other rivals to challenge Fort Larned in his 2013 debut.

As of Friday, only four horses have been confirmed for the Gulfstream Handicap, including Discreet Dancer, Fort Loudon, and Fair Whit. Swagger Jack, runner-up to Fort Loudon in the seven-furlong Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, also seems likely for the race.

Trainer Pat Byrne said Take Charge Indy remains a possibility but he is leaning against turning the 2012 Florida Derby winner back to a mile after he finished third going nine furlongs in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap. Kelly Breen said Thursday that it is even less likely that he will consider Pants On Fire, an easy allowance winner at a mile on Feb. 15, for the Gulfstream Handicap.

“We’re still mulling it over and we have Elliott involved in the decision,” said Take Charge Indy’s trainer, Pat Byrne, referring to WinStar Farm’s president and CEO Elliott Walden. “For my 10 cents worth, I don’t know if I want to back him up to a mile just yet. I’m leaning instead towards the Skip Away at the end of the meet, although he’ll also be nominated to the New Orleans and Oaklawn Park handicaps.”

The Grade 3 Skip Away will be decided at 1 3/16 miles on March 30.

“We’ll probably breeze him a little bit next week,” said Byrne. “If you’ve got a nice handicap horse there are plenty of opportunities. It’s just a matter of getting to the big dance at the end of the year and sometimes it’s not so much where you run but where you don’t run.”

Fair Whit worked five furlongs in 1:02.10 in company with Ducduc here Friday. Ducduc, who is also nominated to the Gulfstream Handicap, was the better of the pair by about 1 1/2 lengths, completing the distance in 1:01.75.

“Right now, I’d say we’ll probably run Fair Whit in the Gulfstream Handicap and save Ducduc for either the Pan American or a $100,000 optional claiming race over the main track that’s also in the book the same day [March 23],” said trainer Shivananda Parbhoo. “I had thought about sending Fair Whit to New York this weekend with Off the Jak for the Tom Fool but changed my mind at the last minute. I want to give him one more chance on the stakes side, and he’s going into the Gulfstream Handicap because I think he’ll run well, not because it’s going to be a small field.”

Summer Front returns in allowance

Sunday’s 10-race program will be highlighted by the Grade 3 Palm Beach but also features the 2013 debut of the multiple Grade 1-placed Summer Front, who will make his first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby on Nov. 25. Summer Front, who won the Dania Beach here at 2, will return under second-level optional $100,000 claiming conditions going a mile in race 6 for trainer Christophe Clement.

A field of nine was drawn for the co-feature and also includes Big Blue Kitten, who finished third here a year ago in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and third earlier this winter in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale Handicap.

Judy the Beauty getting in shape

Judy the Beauty, runner-up in the Grade 1 Spinaway at 2 and the Grade 1 Prioress last summer at Saratoga, made the work tab for the first time this winter when she breezed an easy three-eighths in 38.45 seconds for trainer Wesley Ward here Friday.

Judy the Beauty, who has not finished worse than second in seven career starts, has not raced since finishing second behind the recently retired Dust and Diamonds in Belmont Park’s Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap on Sept. 22.

Little Mike, Dullahan arrive in Dubai

Trainer Dale Romans said both Little Mike and Dullahan arrived safely in Dubai late Friday morning. The pair left here Wednesday and, according to Romans, laid over in Amsterdam before finally completing their long journey.

Romans said he will wait until his horses have had a couple of days to train over the track at Meydan before determining which of the two races available for them, one at a mile and a second at 1 1/4 miles, they will compete in on March 9. Romans leaves for Dubai next Wednesday but plans to be back in time for the Ocala Breeders’ Company sale of 2-year-olds in training on March 12-13.

◗ Jockey Elvis Trujillo, who was kicked in the thigh in the walking ring prior to Thursday’s ninth race, took off all his mounts on Friday’s program. His agent, Cliff Collier, said Trujillo was expected to be back to fulfill all his engagements on Saturday.

◗ Limited spots are still available for the annual Florida Derby Charity golf tournament to be held at the Westin Diplomat Golf Resort in Hollywood, Fla. on March 26. The cost is $130 with proceeds benefitting the Thoroughbred AfterCare Program. Tee time for the shotgun start, scramble format is noon. Anyone interested in signing up should contact Susan Stofsky at Gulfstream Park at (954) 455 6672.