Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, reigning winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) and a dominant winner of the Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), returned to the track at Churchill Downs on Saturday to resume his preparations for bid for a second consecutive victory in the Classic at Santa Anita.
The gallop by the 6-year-old son of E Dubai was Fort Larned’s first journey to the track since trainer Ian Wilkes announced on Aug. 29 that a muscle strain would knock his star out of a planned run in the Woodward Stakes (GI) at Saratoga on Aug. 31.
“He got back [to Churchill Downs] on Wednesday and I rode him in the shed, but I tracked him today,” Wilkes said. “He looked good.”
The Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic remains the ultimate goal for Fort Larned, but Wilkes has the $750,000-added Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) at Belmont Park on Sept. 28 penciled in as a near-term objective. Whether he makes that race will depend on his progress over his home track at Churchill Downs during the next few days.
His 6 ½-length victory in the Stephen Foster remains the only victory in four 2013 starts for Fort Larned, but Wilkes continues to express strong confidence in his horse. He finished fifth to Cross Traffic as the favorite in Saratoga’s Whitney (GI), a race he won in 2012, and finished fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap (GII) after stumbling at the start and tossing jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his season debut in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (GII) on March 13.
Fort Larned ran nine times in 2012 and posted a 5-1-1 record and earnings of $3,598,455.
“I really believe that he’s as good as last year,” Wilkes said. “It’s just been one of those years. If we could start over again – you know, get a “re-do,” we’d be fine. Boy, it’s been a bumpy road.”
The career record for Fort Larned stands at 9-2-1 in 23 starts with earnings of $4,053,917.
REVERSE DISQUALIFICATION A FIRST FOR MARGOLIS – It easily ranked as one of the most unusual finishes of a Churchill Downs race in recent memory, and trainer Steve Margolis – who was at the center of the discussion surrounding the race – said the experience was a “first” for him.
Margolis viewed through binoculars as a pair of his horses – Mount Joy Stables’ Air Squadron and Shake Up, owned by the Estate of Elaine Klein, Richard Klein and Bert Klein – battled through the stretch in the eighth race on Friday’s opening day of Churchill Downs’ September meet. Air Squadron, ridden by Miguel Mena, held off Shake Up and apprentice rider Dylan Davis by three-quarters of a length in the 1 1/16-mile maiden race for 3-year-olds and up.
But the stewards quickly flashed the “inquiry” sign and ultimately reversed the order-of-finish involving the top two, awarding the victory to Shake Up and demoting Air Squadron to the runner-up spot.
So Margolis lost the victory via disqualification, only to be elevated to the top spot by that decision.
“I’ve been put-up in races and I’ve been taken down,” Margolis said. “But I’ve never been put up in the same race in which I was taken down.”
Margolis has watched the race several times since the stewards made their call, and said Air Squadron drifted out under left-handed pressure from Mena and pushed Air Squadron out in the track. He had no reason to argue over the stewards’ call, but that’s easy to do when you’re a winner either way.
It was the second consecutive disqualification for Air Squadron, who came into the race off a fourth-place finish in a race at Ellis Park in which he was demoted to 10th. It was the fourth race for the son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who had finished third in a pair of starts earlier in the year at Gulfstream Park.
Shape Up, a 3-year-old son of Rock Hard Ten, had finished fifth in his only previous start on July 15 at Indiana Downs.
“I thought Air Squadron was really set-up for a big race, which he ran,” Margolis said. “We’ve always liked the Kleins’ horse. We’ve always like him and he’s the first colt we’ve had out of that mare (Round Robin). He’s a big, strapping horse and we were going to try to run him on the last weekend of the Spring Meet, but he acted up in the gate and we decided to give him a little more time.”
TRIO OF TEST STARS TOP NOMINATIONS FOR GRADE III DOGWOOD – A trio of fillies who competed in Saratoga’s Test Stakes (GI) and Churchill Downs stakes winner Blueeysintherein head a roster of 25 3-year-old fillies nominated for the $100,000-added Dogwood Stakes (GIII) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, Sept. 21.
It will be the 38th running of the Dogwood, a seven-furlong race over the main track that has also been run at 1 1/16 miles and mile during its history.
The three nominees that competed in a memorable running of the seven-furlong Test include Rontos Racing Stable’s Wildcat Lily, the runner-up who was beaten a head by Test winner Sweet Lulu; Maggi Moss’ So Many Ways, the winner of the 2012 Spinaway (GI) who was beaten by two lengths in a fourth-place Test finish for trainer Tom Amoss; and Donarra Thoroughbreds LLC’s Irish Lute, sixth in the Test for trainer Dallas Stewart.
So Many Ways also won the seven-furlong Eight Belles at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. The Eight Belles runner-up – Unlimited Equine’s Fusaichiswonderful – is also nominated. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the daughter of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus was a graded stakes winner in Puerto Rico before moving to the U.S. She also ran third in Baby J in the Victory Ride (GI) at Belmont Park.
Also on the list of nominees is Blueeyesintherein, winner of the 2012 Debutante (GIII) at Churchill Downs for trainer Garry Simms. The daughter of Magna Graduate has won three of four races at the Louisville track.
NOTES: Janis Whitham’s Magic Hour, runner-up in the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park, was scratched from tonight’s $100,000-added Locust Grove after suffering a bout with colic on Friday, according to trainer Ian Wilkes. Wilkes said the 4-year-old daughter of Awesome Again was doing well on Saturday. Magic Hour finished behind Devious Intent in the Gardenia, but was three-quarters of a length in front of Eclipse Award Filly and Mare Sprint champion Groupie Doll, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (GI). … Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who establish records for victories in 2013 racing meets at Churchill Downs (Spring), Keeneland (Spring) and Saratoga, got off to a good start in their search for a September Meet “Leading Owner” crown at Churchill Downs with a victory in Friday’s third race by Wild Target ($5.40). The all-time leaders in wins by an owner in the 139-year history of Churchill Downs, the Ramseys have a chance to become the first owner to win three “leading owner” crowns at the home of the Kentucky Derby in a single year. With the addition of its ongoing September Meet, Churchill Downs is conducting three racing meets in a calendar year for the first time. Wild Target is trained by Mike Maker, who also won the featured fourth race with Ghost Is Clear, a horse that is also owned by Maker.
WORK TAB: (Track: FAST) – Golden Ticket, dead-heat winner fo the 2012 Travers, breezed a half-mile for trainer Ken McPeek in :47.40 … Dogwood candidate Blueeyesintherein breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40, the fourth-fastest move of 37 at the distance.