While his win as the odds-on favorite in the first running of Churchill Downs’ $191,275 Homecoming Classic was anything but a surprise, the effort by the victorious odds-on favorite Fort Larned has trainer Ian Wilkes smiling as he looks down the road toward his star’s bid for a repeat victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) at Santa Anita.
Janis R. Whitham’s 5-year-old son of E Dubai led from start-to-finish under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his 1 ½-length victory over the late-running Windswept to score his second victory in five 2013 races. The winning time for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track was a very solid 1:48.58.
The race was the first for Fort Larned since a disappointing fifth-place run as the favorite in Saratoga’s Whitney on Aug 3. A planned start in the Aug. 31 Woodward (GI) over the New York track was scrapped by Wilkes when Fort Larned was determined to have suffered a muscle strain in his rear end. Training time lost to that injury made Saturday’s run in the Homecoming Classic critical to Wilkes’ preparation of Fort Larned for his bid for back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classic wins.
“The horse needed the race,” Wilkes said on the morning after the Homecoming Classic victory. “He got everything out of it that I wanted from it, because we had to miss a little bit of training with that muscle issue early on after the Woodward. He just wasn’t 100-percent. But he looked bright and alert this morning and he got a lot out of the race, so that was good.”
Saturday’s win was the second in five 2013 starts for Fort Larned, who collected his other win over the same surface with a dazzling run in the $536,300 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) on June 15.
With the Homecoming Classic underneath Fort Larned, Wilkes can now fine-tune his reigning champion in the weeks leading up to his Breeders’ Cup Classic defense on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
“Everything has to go right now,” Wilkes said. “Everything has to be perfect, timing has to be right, everything has to be spot-on. You can’t make any mistakes now going to the Breeders’ Cup.”
The Homecoming Classic victory boosted Fort Larned’s career record to 10-2-1 in 24 races and lifted his earnings to $4,171,322.
Smiles also were the order for the morning about an hour west off Interstate 64 at the Keeneland barn of trainer Charlie LoPresti, who witnessed a flying runner-up finish to Fort Larned by the Estate of Elaine Klein (Richard Klein) and Bertram Klein’s Windswept.
The strong Homecoming Classic run snapped a two-race win streak for the Klein homebred. But it was good enough for LoPresti to circle the 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) – a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for Friday, Nov. 29 – as the next target for his rising star.
“We’ll shoot for the Clark if everything goes right, with no races in-between,” LoPresti said by telephone. “He seemed to come out of his race good. We thought he ran good. He was flying late and we’re proud of him.”
The runner-up finish to Fort Larned improved the career record for the lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Arch to 3-2-1 in nine races with earnings of $205,168.
LoPresti has been a regular participant in the Clark in recent years. He won its 2011 running with Mort Fink’s homebred Wise Dan, who would earn “Horse of the Year” and turf champion honors in 2012. Fink’s Successful Dan finished first in the 2010 Clark, but the older half-brother to Wise Dan was disqualified for interference in the stretch and placed third when Giant Oak was awarded the victory.
JUVENILE STARS STRONG MANDATE, CLEBURNE WORK – Robert Baker and William Mack’s Strong Mandate and Donegal Stable’s Cleburne, a pair of major contenders for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita, were on the Churchill Downs track on Sunday for workouts.
Strong Mandate, the winner of the Hopeful (GI) at Saratoga for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, breezed a half-mile in :48 over a fast track.
The work was Strong Mandate’s final tune-up for Saturday’s $300,000 Foxwoods Champagne (GI) at Belmont Park. Internal fractions for the work by the son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow included a first quarter in :12 and the half-mile in :48.
“It was just a little breeze to focus him a little bit, but we’re ready to go,” Lukas said. “We’re excited about getting him back to New York and getting him in the Champagne.”
Strong Mandate is scheduled to travel by van to Belmont Park and will leave on Monday.
Lukas’ newest star has three career races – all at the Saratoga meet – to his credit. He won a maiden race at Saratoga in his second start before romping by 9 ¾ lengths over a sealed muddy track in the seven-furlong Hopeful. He will stretch out to Belmont’s one-turn mile in the Champagne.
“I think he’s getting better,” Lukas said. “The last three or four weeks he’s been so much more focused and obviously getting sharper as he develops. I think he’s a pretty special horse.”
Cleburne, the unbeaten winner of the Iroquois (GIII) for trainer Dale Romans, worked five furlongs over a fast surface in 1:01.20.
The son of Dixie Union worked from the half-mile pole and finished midway around the first turn and carved out fractions of :23.40 and :48 and galloped-out six furlongs in 1:15.60.
Cleburne, who opened his career with a victory on grass in a maiden race at Kentucky’s Ellis Park, earned a spot in the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with his narrow victory over stablemate Smart Cover in the Iroquois, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series race. Romans plans to train Cleburne up to his run in the 1 1/16-mle Breeders’ Cup event.
BARN TALK: Maggi Moss held a narrow 4-3 edge over Ken and Sarah Ramsey for leading owner heading into Sunday’s final racing session of new September Meet at Churchill Downs, but midway through Sunday’s card the Ramseys had won two races to clinch their record-extending 20th local owners title. … Eight winners saddled so far by Steve Asmussen placed him atop the “leading trainer” standings with 10 races to go in the meet. He is looking for his record-extending 13th Churchill Downs training title. Dale Romans (six wins), Steve Margolis (5) and Mike Maker were in closest pursuit. … A duel between Corey Lanerie and Shaun Bridgmohan for “leading rider” has been a highlight of recent Churchill Downs racing meets, and Lanerie led Bridgmohan 17-14 heading into Sunday’s card. Lanerie won a race early Sunday and looked to sure up his third local riding title. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel and Ricardo Santana Jr. were tied for third with eight victories, one ahead of fifth-place Joe Rocco Jr. … Bernard Baruch (GII) winner Silver Max breezed a half-mile in :48.80 on Sunday for trainer Dale Romans. The 5-year-old son of Badge of Silver is expected to take on Horse of the Year Wise Dan in Keeneland’s Shadwell Turf Mile on Saturday. … Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Secretariat (GI) winner Admiral Kitten breezed five furlongs in 1:00.80 for trainer Mike Maker over the six-furlong oval at Trackside Training Center. Also working for the Ramseys and Maker at Trackside was Kitten’s Dumplings, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00. The daughter of Kitten’s Joy, winner of Churchill Downs’ Regret (GII) and Edgewood and Saratoga’s Lake George (GII), is expected to run next in Keeneland’s Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (GI) for 3-year-old fillies on turf. … Trainer Ian Wilkes said A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Neck ‘n Neck was doing well on the morning after a Saturday work at Churchill Downs and remained on-track for a racing comeback in the Oct. 5 Michael G. Schaefer Mile at Hoosier Park. The son of Flower Alley, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. on Saturday, won the Indiana Derby (GII) and Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack last fall. He was injured while training for a run in the Clark Handicap.