08/26/2013 3:22PM

Saratoga: Fort Larned tunes up for Woodward

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Barbara D. Livingston
Fort Larned, with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. riding, works out Monday at Saratoga.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Ian Wilkes was obviously disappointed in Fort Larned’s fifth-place finish as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Whitney here earlier this month. But instead of looking back on what might have been, Wilkes is thinking ahead to what he hopes will be a bounce-back performance for the reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic champion in Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodward.

Fort Larned turned in his final prep for the Woodward here early Monday morning, working five-eighths in 1:00.74 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.38 with jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard.

“I asked Brian to fly in for the work because I wanted him back on the horse again before the race,” Wilkes said. “It was just the type of work I wanted, especially the way he galloped out. Brian said he was very happy with him, and so was I.”

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Wilkes offered no excuses for Fort Larned’s performance in the Whitney.

“I’m not going to dwell on it,” said Wilkes, who won Monday’s second race with Ocean Boulevard. “I think the handicap division is unbelievably strong this year. There were a lot of good horses in that race, and there will be a lot of good ones in this one. We’ll see how the post position draw goes before plotting out any strategy, and I’m really looking forward to running him back here Saturday.”

Fort Larned was one of two Woodward candidates to work Monday, along with Flat Out, who posted a bullet half-mile in 48.30 seconds over the Oklahoma training track. Three others, Whitney winner Cross Traffic, Mucho Macho Man, and Ron the Greek had their final preps Sunday.

A field of eight is shaping up for the Woodward and also figures to include Alpha, Successful Dan, and Paynter.

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Trainer Todd Pletcher said he is still not 100 percent certain whether Cross Traffic will run in the Woodward or await the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28. Cross Traffic worked after the renovation break in company with his undefeated stablemate Eastwood on Sunday, the pair going an easy half-mile in 48.12 seconds before galloping out five-eighths in 1:00.99 and pulling up six furlongs in 1:13.94.

“There’s a good chance he’ll be entered, and I’d say it’s probably more likely he’ll run here than he won’t run,” Pletcher said. “The horse is here, he’s doing well, and he won the Whitney over this racetrack, but he also ran very well at Belmont. The deciding factor will be what I think gives us the best chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”

Trainer Bill Mott confirmed Monday that he plans to run both Flat Out and Ron the Greek in the Woodward. Ron the Greek worked an easy half-mile in 49.30 over the Oklahoma training track Sunday. Flat Out has not started since winning the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 6. Ron the Greek finished fourth in the Whitney.

“Ron was bucking and squealing yesterday, and [exercise rider] Neil [Poznansky] said Flat Out gave him a very good feeling this morning,” Mott said after training hours Monday. “We had the option with Flat Out to run in the Whitney coming off his win in the Suburban, but we worked him and felt he wasn’t on his game 100 percent. He’s had issues with his feet, and we felt we needed a little more time. With that being said, we pointed for the Woodward. We didn’t want to skip them both.”

Mott will need a new rider for Ron the Greek, with his regular rider, Jose Lezcano, set to miss the next four weeks with a wrist injury suffered in a spill here Sunday.

Mucho Macho Man, who finished third in the Whitney, breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:03.55 under jockey Edgar Prado on Sunday, completing his final quarter in 24.86 without urging before galloping out six furlongs in 1:16.31.

“It was perfect,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “I just wanted an easy five-eighths and for him to gallop out well, and that’s exactly what he did. Edgar said he felt great. He was really happy with him, that he just kind of tugged him around there. I think he’ll be a stronger horse on Saturday than he was in the Whitney. He’s a big, muscular horse, so the third race in the cycle should be his best one. He’s definitely matured and grown over the past year, and I think he’s as good as, if not better, going into this race than he was last summer.”

Mucho Macho Man finished second, beaten a neck by To Honor and Serve, in the 2012 Woodward.

– additional reporting by David Grening