Trainer Ian Wilkes has announced a change in the path that Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) winner Fort Larned will travel in his quest to defend his 2012 victory in the $5 million race in this year’s renewal at Santa Anita on Saturday, Nov. 2.
Wilkes said Tuesday that Janis Whitham’s homebred 5-year-old son of E Dubai would prep for his Breeders’ Cup defense in Churchill Downs’ first running of its $175,000-added Homecoming Classic during the track’s “Downs After Dark” night racing program on Saturday, Sept. 28. He had indicated earlier that Fort Larned would travel to New York’s Belmont Park to run in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) on the same day.
The adjustment in travel and racing plans was revealed following a sharp Tuesday workout by Fort Larned. He zipped five furlongs over fast footing on his home track in :59.80 under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
Churchill Downs’ clockers recorded internal fractions in the five-furlong move of :12.40, :24.60 and :36.60. Fort Larned galloped out six furlongs 1:12.40 and seven furlongs in 1:25.60. The move ranked as second-fastest of 29 works at the distance.
Wilkes said the decision to stay home at Churchill Downs to prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the new 1 1/8-mile race rather than travel to New York was made during a discussion with Fort Larned’s owner/breeder.
"Our goal is to try and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic again,” Wilkes said. “We want to do what we feel is right for the horse. We keep him here and run him a mile and an eighth. He’s on his track with a one-race ship. Otherwise I’m going to ship to Belmont and ship back again.
“It just fit into our plans to run him here. If we didn’t have the September Meet and didn’t have this race, we would have gone to the Jockey Club.”
Tuesday’s work was the second by Fort Larned since he returned to Churchill Downs from Saratoga, where a muscle strain prompted Wilkes to scrap a scheduled run by his Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in the Woodward (GI) in late August. He breezed four furlongs over the Churchill Downs surface in :49.80 on Sept. 12.
“Brian said he felt great and didn’t feel any different,” Wilkes said. “He came off the track with authority. He walked off the track like he owned the place. That’s what I liked about it – he’s got that air of confidence about him.”
Fort Larned has had an uneven year to this point and his only victory in four races was a 6 ¼-length romp in the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs on June 15. He finished fifth to Cross Traffic in his most recent start on Aug. 3 in Saratoga’s $750,000-added Whitney (GI), a race that Fort Larned won in 2012. Other notable runs at Churchill Downs by Fort Larned include a runner-up finish to Successful Dan in the 2012 Alysheba (GII) and an allowance race win in November, 2011.
The Stephen Foster is part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge series and Fort Larned’s victory assured him a spot in the starting gate for his Breeders’ Cup Classic defense.
His career record stands a 9-2-1 in 23 races with earnings of $4,053,917.
Nominations for the Homecoming Classic were announced last week. Horses considered “possible” for the race include trainer Mark Casse’s 2011 Stephen Foster winner Pool Play; Golden Ticket, the Ken McPeek-trained dead-heat winner of the 2012 Travers (GI), runner-up to Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster and winner of the recent Remington Park Handicap; Windswept, winner of a back-to-back allowance races at Churchill Downs and Saratoga for trainer Charles LoPresti; Agent Di Nozzo, winner of the Golden Bear Stakes at Indiana Downs for trainer Steve Margolis; and Worldly, runner-up to Golden Ticket in the Prairie Meadows Handicap and Prayer for Relief in the Remington Park Governor’s Cup in his two races for new trainer Brendan Walsh.
WORK TAB (Track: FAST) – Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Schulyerville (GIII) dead-heat winner Bahnah breezed five furlongs in :49.20. Bahnah finished sixth in the Spinaway (GI) in her most recent outing for trainer Bret Calhoun. …