Updated on 08/07/2012 1:22PM

Saratoga: Fort Larned turns stalking trip into a Whitney victory

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Tom Keyser
Fort Larned gives Kentucky jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. the biggest victory of his career in the Whitney Handicap.

 SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Fort Larned was training so well leading up to Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap that trainer Ian Wilkes couldn’t wait until Saturday to talk to his jockey.

So in mid-week he called Brian Hernandez, the Kentucky-based jockey who would be riding Fort Larned to share with him the good vibrations.

The conversation filled Hernandez with so much confidence that there were no nerves for the 26-year-old, who would be making his first ever trip to Saratoga.

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What Wilkes imparted to Hernandez was evident for all to see Saturday at steamy Saratoga as Fort Larned blew the Whitney open turning for home then lasted for a 1 1/4-length victory over the dual Grade 1 winner Ron the Greek in the 85th Whitney Handicap. It was a head back to his stablemate Flat Out as both horses were compromised by wide trips.

Hymn Book, who floated the Bill Mott-trained pair out in upper stretch, finished fourth and was followed in the order of finish by Trickmeister, Endorsement, Hunters Bay, Caixa Eletronica and Rule.

The win was the first Grade 1 victory for Fort Larned and earned him an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. As part of the Win and You’re In program, Fort Larned will have his entry-fees paid and his connections will get a $10,000 travel stipend.

Fort Larned, Janis Whitham’s 4-year-old homebred son of E Dubai and a grandson of two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Bayakoa, had put in some sensational works over Saratoga’s main track, including a five-furlong move in 58.40 seconds on Monday.

“If anyone had seen him work he worked unbelievable. He worked a little faster than I wanted, but he galloped out unbelievable,” Wilkes said. “He was on his game. Seeing him come back he never left an oat. It didn’t take anything out of him.”
 

 Breaking from post 9, Fort Larned got out of the gate quickly and entering the first turn was laying third behind Endorsement, who set fractions of 23.42 seconds for the quarter, 46.97 for the half-mile, and 1:10.86 for six furlongs while being chased by Trickmeister.

Meanwhile, Hernandez had Fort Larned about two lengths the pace before the horse moved Hernandez to the leaders around the far turn. Fort Larned took charge turning for home, opened up four lengths at midstretch and despite some premature celebrating from Hernandez got to the wire first.

“I was able to follow the two on the lead around there. Going into the second turn I knew I had a lot of horse and just stayed out of his way and he took us home,” Hernandez said.

Fort Larned covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.76 and returned $16.40 to win.

Fort Larned had won three stakes this year, but finished last in the Stephen Foster on June 16 before coming back to win the Grade 3 Cornhusker by three lengths two weeks later.

“Coming out of the Stephen Foster you got beat, you got your head handed to you there, and so you always question yourself, but I think he belongs,” Wilkes said.

Ron the Greek, coming off a win in the Stephen Foster, and Flat Out, last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, were already Grade 1 winners before the Whitney. Flat Out and Ron the Greek attempted to move at the same time around the far turn, with Flat Out carrying Ron the Greek out a path.

In upper stretch Hymn Book came out on Flat Out, which forced him to carry Ron the Greek Out.

“I think we got packed out a little bit on the turn with Ron the Greek,” said Bill Mott, who trains both horses. “Last time, he had an inside trip and got up by a nose. Today he went around and it cost him that length and the win perhaps.

“They both ran very well and looked like they kept coming,” Mott added. “The Jockey Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup [Classic] shouldn’t be a problem with either one.”