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Odds-On Choice Fort Larned Gallops On Eve of Homecoming Classic

| Churchill Downs Communications | 10/28/2013 #
  • Fort Larned and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. (Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs)

  • General Election won the Arlington Classic under Joe Rocco Jr. (Four Footed Fotos)

  • Graham Motion, trainer of Tate's Landing

  • Jefferson Cup hope Tate's Landing won the Laurel Futurity (Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club)

LOUISVILLE, KY (Friday, September 27, 2013) – Defending Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) winner Fort Larned has been installed as the odds-on 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s first running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic at Churchill Downs, but his post-time odds could drop even lower following the defection of one of three Grade I stakes winners from the field.

The number of rivals that will face Janis R. Whitham’s homebred son of E Dubai in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile “Downs After Dark” centerpiece dropped to five when Magic City ThoroughbredsGolden Ticket boarded a plane for Southern California early Thursday morning. The Kenny McPeek-trained dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers (GI) at Saratoga was the 4-1 second choice in Churchill Downs’ oddsmaker Mike Battaglia’s morning line for the race, but Golden Ticket will run instead in the $250,000 Awesome Again (GI) at Santa Anita rather than face Fort Larned over his home track.

Golden Ticket finished second to Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) in June, but was never a threat to the front-running winner, who won by 6 ¼ lengths in a dazzling performance.

McPeek was lured to the Santa Antia race because of the Awesome Again is both a Grade I recent and a “Breeders’ Cup Win and Your In” Challenge Series race. A victory in the Awesome Again would earn Golden Ticket a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2.

McPeek also shipped Locust Grove winner Flashy American to Santa Anita to run in the $250,000 Zenyatta (GI), a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI).

Trainer Ian Wilkes said Fort Larned was doing well on the eve of his final prep for his defense of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic victory. The 5-year-old son of E Dubai galloped strongly at Churchill Downs on Friday.

“The horse is feeling good,” Wilkes said. “He had a good day (Friday). So everything’s done. I’m not sure what I’ll do with him (Saturday morning) yet. I’ll do something with him, but he’s in good shape.”

With the defection of Golden Ticket, it appeared that Zayat Stables LLC’s multiple stakes winner Prayer for Relief and Windswept, who is seeking his first stakes victory for the Louisville-based Klein Family partnership, would vie for the role of second choice in Homecoming Classic betting. The former comes into the race off back-to-back stakes wins for trainer Steve Asmussen, while Windswept brings a two-race win streak and a good record at Churchill Downs into the race for trainer Charlie LoPresti.

Agent Di Nozzo, a two-time stakes winner, is listed at 15-1; Pool Play, winner of the 2011 Stephen Foster, is a 20-1 risk and stakes winner Worldly rounds out the field as its longest shot at 30-1.

GENERAL ELECTION RETURNS TO SITE OF FIRST VICTORY AS JEFFERSON CUP FAVORITEWinStar Farm LLC’s General Election got his career off to an auspicious start nearly a year ago beneath the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.

On Saturday night he will return to the Louisville track in an attempt hit the “reset” button on his 3-year-old season following a pair of disappointing summer races.

              Despite those setbacks, General Election is the 3-1 morning line favorite in a field on nine 3-year-olds entered in the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII), which will be run at a mile over the Matt Winn Turf Course. It will be his first outing at Churchill Downs since the bay son of Harlan’s Holiday rolled to a three-length victory on dirt in his racing debut on Nov. 24.

There have been plenty of highlights in the 3-year-old season for General Election, who is trained by Lexington-based Kellyn Gorder. They include a victory over Turfway Park’s synthetic Polytrack surface in the John Battaglia Memorial, a runner-up finish over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland in the Coolmore Lexington (GIII) and, most recently, a 13-1 win over the Arlington Park turf in the May 25 Arlington Classic (GIII).

But two races since that triumph have resulted in little more than frustration. The most recent was a trip to Southern California that resulted in a fifth-place finish in a division of the Del Mar Derby (GII). The stretch-running General Election was beaten by only two lengths by Ethnic Dance in that 1 1/8-mile outing although he was forced to chase slow early fractions of :49.45 for the half mile and six furlongs in 1:13.45 that did little to set-up his late charge.

"It wasn’t a bad effort,” Gorder said. “That race was split into two divisions and we were unlucky enough to get the one that didn’t have any pace.”

Prior to his trip to Del Mar, General Election had a difficult experience at Arlington Park in the American Derby (GIII).  He finished seventh in a field of 10 in that race and was vanned back to the barn following the race.

“He stumbled and took a bad step right before the wire,” Gorder said. “He bobbled a little bit and (jockey) Joe (Rocco Jr.) jumped off of him, just as a precaution. We got him back to the barn and he cooled-out fine, and we went over him when we got back to the Lexington, but didn’t come up with much. We’re thinking just stepped in a soft spot or a divot.”

Rocco, who has ridden Gorder’s colt in three of his last four starts, will be back in the saddle on Saturday when General Election meets seven other 3-year-olds in the one-mile Jefferson Cup.

“It’s a good spot and we don’t have to go halfway across the country, like we did last time,” Gorder said. “It might be a little shorter than his ideal distance. He’s done his best running at a mile-and-a-sixteenth.”

General Election is the narrow pre-race favorite over Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s homebred Redwood Kitten, a front-running winner of the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day and third to Gabriel Charles in the other division of the Del Mar Derby in his most recent outing. Redwood Kitten is listed at 7-2 in the Jefferson Cup’s morning line odds.

The versatile General Election stands at 3-2-0 in nine races and each of his three wins has come over a different surface: dirt at Churchill Downs, synthetic Polytrack at Turfway Park and grass at Arlington Park.

Gorder is optimistic that his colt’s spotless record at Churchill Downs will remain intact Saturday evening after the Jefferson Cup has been run.

"It looks like this race might set up for him,” Gorder said. “There’s some speed in there and hopefully Joe will get him good position and make a nice run.”

TATE’S LANDING BIDS TO RETURN TO FORM FOR MOTION IN JEFFERSON CUP – He’s a pre-race longshot for Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion, but Copper Penny Stable’s Tate’s Landing is a colt that could be a contender in Saturday night’s competitive 37th running of the Jefferson Cup, which shares the racing spotlight with the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic on the final “Downs After Dark” night racing program of Churchill Downs’ September Meet.

Tate’s Landing won one of three starts on dirt at two for trainer Michael Pino before he moved to the turf at Laurel Park and rolled to an easy 3 ½-length victory at odds of 23-1 in the Laurel Futurity. He followed that victory with an eighth-place finish in the Dania Beach at Gulfstream Park in December and moved to Motion’s stable in early 2013.

The 3-year-old son of Orientate trained steadily through the spring and summer with Motion’s stable at Maryland’s Fair Hill Training Center. He finally returned to racing on Sept. 7 with a fourth-place run in a field of nine in a six-furlong sprint over the grass at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky.

“He trained very well in the spring and I kind of like the idea of starting off sprinting,” Motion said via telephone from Fair Hill. “I think, to be honest, this horse can do most anything. I think he can turf or dirt, but it just seemed like a good idea to start him off there at Kentucky Downs.”

Tate’s Landing was beaten by just 2 ¼ lengths in his solid return at Kentucky Downs, and Motion felt a return to stakes competition in the Jefferson Cup was a logical next step for the colt.

"This race was a good fit, timing-wise, so I kind of had it in the back of my mind,” Motion said. “It worked out well because we had a few horses at Churchill Downs, so he didn’t have to ship all the way back.”

Tate’s Landing brings a career record of 2-1-0 in six races and earnings of $106,820 in the Jefferson Cup.

 Tate’s Landing was one of two Motion-trained horses entered to run in the Jefferson Cup, but Motion said Friday that Newcal Stable’s Rapscallion would be scratched from the race. The son of Speightstown who ran second to Frac Daddy in a Saratoga allowance last time out and has yet to run worse than third in his four career starts.

The Jefferson Cup would have been the stakes debut for Rapscallion, but Motion has decided to take more time with the colt.

“I think it’s just too big a step for him,” Motion said. “I thought the race came up very competitive.”

BARN TALK: Friday is the final day for the placement of the temporary rail on the Matt Winn Turf Course for the September Meet. Track Superintendent David Lehr said the rail would be taken down overnight and turf races on Saturday and Sunday’s final two days of the 12-day meet will be run on the hedge. … Miz Ida, winner of the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII), breezed a half-mile Friday over a “fast” track in :48. She is being pointed toward Keeneland’s First Lady (GI) … Magic Hour, runner-up in the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 … Valene Farm’s Designer Legs, winner of Saratoga’s Adirondack (GII), breezed four furlongs in :48.80 over a fast track for trainer Dallas Stewart on Thursday. The Louisiana-bred daughter of Graeme Hall is schedule to run in Keeneland’s Darley Alcibiades (GI) on Oc.t 4 … Oaklawn Handicap (GII) and Ack Ack (GIII) runner-up Taptowne breezed five furlongs in :59 on Thursday at Churchill Downs. The work by the Tim Glyshaw-trained 5-year-old gelding was the fastest of 26 training moves at the distance.