07/23/2013 2:54PM

Saratoga notes: Fort Larned has sharp workout for Whitney Invitational

Barbara D. Livingston
Fort Larned, with regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard, breezes five furlongs in 1:01.20 on a sloppy track at Saratoga on Tuesday.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Ian Wilkes didn’t like what he saw when Fort Larned worked five furlongs in 1:03 and change here last Saturday, so he wheeled the defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champion back out three days later and got the results he was looking for – and then some – as Fort Larned breezed five panels in 1:01.20 over a sloppy track Tuesday.

Wilkes had the added luxury Tuesday of having Fort Larned’s regular rider, Brian Hernandez Jr., aboard for the important work. Hernandez offered to fly in from Kentucky on Monday evening for Fort Larned’s work, which came just 12 days before he’s scheduled to defend his title in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 3.

The main track was sealed and sloppy following steady overnight rains, tempting Wilkes to consider bringing Fort Larned across the street to the Oklahoma training track if the main track wasn’t to Hernandez’s satisfaction.

“I was tossed up between going to Oklahoma or keeping him here on the main track, but after Brian went out and jogged him a little, he felt the track was okay, so we stayed on this side,” Wilkes said.

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With light rain falling, Hernandez allowed Fort Larned to take a pretty good run to the five-furlong pole but quickly got him to come to hand, posting fractions of 13.13 seconds, 25.84, and 37.39 for the opening three furlongs.

Hernandez shook the reins a couple of times once settling into the stretch, and Fort Larned responded by picking up the pace, completing his final quarter in 23.81. The most impressive part of the work came after the wire, with Fort Larned galloping out a strong six furlongs in 1:13.73 before pulling up seven-eighths in 1:27.20.

“I didn’t get what I wanted the other day,” Wilkes said. “That work was just a little slower than I was looking for, no big deal, and I wanted a better work today because I didn’t want to be chasing my tail. And I was very happy with what I saw this morning, especially the way he galloped out super. That’s what I wanted to see.”

Wilkes said he’ll work Fort Larned once more before the Whitney, with the decision on whether it will be another fast work or something a little easier dependent upon how the horse is doing over the next week. Wilkes also said there was a chance Hernandez would come back to work him again, depending upon his riding schedule.

“I think the incident at Gulfstream Park, by running loose, took more out of him than I first thought,” Wilkes said. “So, we regrouped, and I think you can see by his performance in the Stephen Foster that he’s back to where he was coming into the Whitney last year.”

Fort Larned led throughout to post a 6 1/4-length triumph in the Stephen Foster for his first victory since defeating Mucho Macho Man to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November. He rallied from just off the pace for a 1 1/4-length victory over Ron the Greek in the 2012 Whitney.

Wilkes also sent out Jim Dandy hopeful, Looking Cool, several minutes later to breeze five furlongs in 1:01.11 with Edgar Prado up. Looking Cool completed his final quarter in 24.41 under heavy urging before galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.95.

Looking Cool, who is coming off a victory in the Iowa Derby, is trained by Wilkes mentor Carl Nafzger.

“He’s a little more lazy than Fort Larned,” Wilkes said. “He does whatever you want, and you just have to ask him a little bit or he’ll go down there in 28.”

Wilkes said Prado will have the mount on Looking Cool for the first time in the Jim Dandy.