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Gulfstream Park Handicap has Fort Larned starting his year
By Mike Welsch
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Fort Larned has spent the last four months vacationing in south Florida. Now it’s finally time for the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner to get back to work.
Fort Larned begins his 2013 campaign, one that will be designed to get him back to Santa Anita to defend his title in the BC Classic, in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. The Grade 2 race will be decided at one mile and drew a field of six that also includes top contenders Fort Loudon, Swagger Jack, and Discreet Dancer. Outsiders Gourmet Dinner and Decaf Again complete the lineup.
Fort Larned will carry high weight of 124 pounds while conceding up to a dozen pounds to his five rivals.
Fort Larned won 5 of 9 starts in 2012. Along with his crowning achievement, a game half-length triumph over Mucho Macho Man in the BC Classic, Fort Larned also captured the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, defeating Ron the Greek and Flat Out. Although stabled last winter, like this one, at the Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach, Fla., Fort Larned made just one start here a year ago, rallying to a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 3 Skip Away for the first graded stakes win of his career.
Fort Larned, a homebred son of E Dubai owned by Janis Whitham, has been working steadily for his return since early February, and trainer Ian Wilkes thinks he’s done enough to be ready for a big, but perhaps not peak, performance right off the bench.
“He’s doing really well. I’m happy with the way he’s been training right along,” said Wilkes. “We’ve been pointing for this race since we got down here. He’s ready to run, but it’s his first race of the year. Is he 110 [percent]? No. But he’s ready. A mile race like this probably isn’t his best distance. He’s better around two turns, but I think it’s a good spot for him to come back. I just didn’t need for him to have a taxing mile-and-one-eighth trip first time back. I want something to build off of.”
Wilkes reflected briefly on Fort Larned’s 2012 campaign.
“It was fun, wasn’t it?” Wilkes said with a smile. “It was a great year. After the Whitney, the plan was to make sure he would peak on Breeders’ Cup day, so we backed off and freshened him just a little because I’d been going with him so long. I couldn’t go to the Woodward and the Jockey Club and have him ready to win the Breeders’ Cup too.”
Fort Larned passed the Woodward and finished third in the Jockey Club before running the race of his life, earning a 117 Beyer Speed Figure, defeating Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.
“Right now we’re just anxious to get that first race back, to get him back in that rhythm,” said Wilkes. “I haven’t mapped anything specific out for him after this race, although coming out of Florida, we’ll most likely take a similar path to get him to the Breeders’ Cup as we did last season.”
Brian Hernandez Jr., who became Fort Larned’s regular rider during the second half of 2012, will be down for the assignment.
Fort Loudon is coming off a game victory over Swagger Jack in the Grade 3, seven-furlong Gulfstream Sprint Championship Handicap. Fort Loudon has proven to be at his best at distances ranging from six to seven furlongs. He defeated 2012 BC Sprint champion Trinniberg going six furlongs in Calder’s Carry Back and finished second, beaten a half-length, at seven furlongs in Saratoga’s Grade 1 King’s Bishop. But he did finish second behind Fort Larned’s stablemate Neck ’n Neck going a mile in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap last fall at Churchill Downs.
Swagger Jack has shown steady improvement since trainer Marty Wolfson removed the blinkers late last fall. Swagger Jack posted back-to-back, one-mile optional claiming victories earlier in the meet before rallying to finish second turning back to seven-eighths in the Gulfstream Sprint Championship.
Discreet Dancer has made all four career starts at Gulfstream and is undefeated around one turn. His lone setback in four career starts was a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth going 1 1/16 miles at 3. Discreet Dancer was sidelined more than 11 months after that race before returning to register a game neck victory in a six-furlong optional claiming and allowance dash here on Feb. 6.
“We’re very pleased with the way he ran off the layoff and even more so with the way he’s trained coming out of that race,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “This is a tough spot, but he loves Gulfstream and he’s a fresh horse that’s doing well, so we’re taking the chance.”
What a way to 'start' his year. Feel bad for the bridge jumpers.
Stay Thirsty in that Jockey Club Gold Cup of 2012 never gave up and went from the gate to a very close place. That is why I liked those four horses who came up in The Breeders Cup of 2012. Stay Thirsty ran one last race before going to the farm against Groupie Doll that he barely beat by a nose. Both Stay Thirsty and Shacleford got to retire winning like the great horses they were.
Don't like Fort learned in this one he will lose to much weight
They should drag Barry Rose out and mike HIM run every, every week. Hey peta... here's one for you.
Used to be that the GP Handicap was a premier event run at 10 furlongs. The meet has been going on since the beginning of December and the GPH is a one turn mile? Will there be 5 horses in the gate? That is now the question, for just about every race, every day, as this is one sputerin dud of a drawn out gathering. The only reason to even care is the MEGA-POINTS that go with the Florida Derby on March 30 - well after half the outfits have moved out O town. Too long a meet means too few horses in March. And there should be a true handicap at 10 F.
Fort larned wins good field he the best horse
Well this is a crazy race like The Sunshine Millions Classic! Fort Loudon, Swagger Jack, and Decaf Again are sprinters. Fort Loudon has raced some of these twice this year at Gulfstream, in sprints! Fort Larned is a Gr. 1 router. Do not be expecting odds of 9.40 like in The Breeders’ Cup Classic but odds like Mucho Macho Man got in The Sunshine Millions Classic, 0.40 which pays $2.80 for a win. Fort Larned is going to win but this seems like a workout in a five horse field of horses that Fort Larned is way over qualified over the rest!
My man Andy Serling has taught me many a thing over the years but one of the most important angles ever is the cutback in distance. It has been an extended layoff for Fort Larned since his Breeders Cup win at a mile and a quarter but personally I view rthe mile as a perfect spot to return a winner. Fort Loudon will give a good account of himself for as far as he goes but I think the champ will be in full flight by the eigth pole and should make short work of this bunch. Ian Wilkes is a crafty man and if he is looking at something more important down the road at Keeneland or Churchill may just use this as a prep but I doubt it. He is too high profile now and I think they will map out a path to the Breeders Cup of races they believe they can win.
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