07/29/2013 4:19PM

Saratoga: Fort Larned likely to face six in Whitney

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Barbara D. Livingston
Fort Larned breezed five furlongs in 1:00.89 with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard Monday in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Fort Larned carried 117 pounds when he picked up his first Grade 1 win in the 2012 Whitney. He returns to defend that title here Saturday under high weight of 122 pounds, an assignment he earned with a résumé that now features three Grade 1 triumphs, including his victory over Mucho Macho Man in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Fort Larned is part of a field that grew to seven likely starters after trainer Phil Gleaves confirmed that Csaba would join the Whitney lineup. Gleaves had hoped to run Csaba in the Birdstone, an overnight stakes that had been scheduled to be run here Friday. But after that race failed to fill when entries were drawn Monday, Gleaves quickly decided to throw his hat into the Whitney ring.

“Obviously, my first choice was the Birdstone,” Gleaves said. “But they just told me that race only had three in it, so I’ll go ahead and run in the Whitney. We’re up here, we have a nice horse, he’s doing very well, he’s run well over the course before, and we don’t want to leave him in the barn. I’m trying to look at all the positives, although we know it’s a very strong, competitive field.”

Csaba had won five of six starts before finishing a troubled third earlier this month in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile. His only setback during that stretch was a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap,

Csaba will carry 114 pounds in the Whitney, including jockey Luis Saez.

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Fort Larned will concede three to eight pounds to his six prospective rivals Saturday. Mucho Macho Man, who finished a half-length behind Fort Larned in the 2012 BC Classic, is next in line at 119 pounds, followed by Ron the Greek and Successful Dan, 118 apiece; Cross Traffic, 117; Alpha, 115; and Fast Falcon, 115.

Fort Larned had his final tune-up for the Whitney when working five furlongs in 1:00.89, with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. up, in company with stablemate Praise the Bird on Monday. Fort Larned dropped about six lengths behind his partner entering the stretch before finishing strong under mild encouragement from Hernandez, edging two lengths clear at the wire before galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.66.

“I wanted to give him a different look this morning, a little bit of a target, instead of working him alone again,” trainer Ian Wilkes said.

As for the weights, Wilkes said 122 pounds was more than fair, considering Fort Larned’s accomplishments over the past year.

“Actually, I thought I might get 123,” Wilkes said, “although it’s what they put on the others that you’ve got to watch. But everything looks good with him. I think he’s right on his game and right where he was going into the race last year.”

◗ Departing was among the notable horses on the work tab Monday, going an easy half-mile in 49.55. The Illinois Derby winner, Departing is expected to start in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby on Saturday. Departing is coming off a sixth-place finish behind Oxbow in the Preakness.