Fort Larned joins the top rank in Whitney
Janis R. Whitham's homebred Fort Larned joined the upper echelon of the
nation's handicap division by scoring his first Grade 1 coup in Saturday's
Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga. Unleashing a monster move for
Brian Hernandez Jr. leaving the far turn, the Ian Wilkes trainee opened up an
insurmountable lead, and safely held the closing trio of Ron the Greek, Flat Out
and Hymn Book.
|Fort Larned earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic
(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)
Fort Larned was defeating the winners of several Grade 1 events -- the Santa
Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap (Ron the Greek), the Jockey Club Gold
Cup (Flat Out) and the Donn Handicap (Hymn Book) -- in a competitive renewal of
the Whitney. Ron the Greek earned 5-2 favoritism in his quest for a third Grade
1 victory of the season, Hymn Book went off as the 7-2 second choice, and Flat
Out was third in the betting at 4-1.
Perhaps because of his low-key connections, Fort Larned was overlooked for
some time in the wagering, despite the fact that he was on the upgrade, and
coming off a convincing win over Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows
Cornhusker Handicap. His odds ultimately contracted a bit, however, and he left
the gate as the 7-1 fifth choice.
Endorsement hustled to the early lead and was alternately pressed and tracked
by Trickmeister through splits of :23 2/5 and :46 4/5. Fort Larned was parked in
a stalking third on the outside, but the late-running Ron the Greek was
unhurried in his usual last.
On the far turn, Fort Larned drew alongside Endorsement and Trickmeister as
they grappled through six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Much farther back, Ron the Greek
was beginning to unwind, with plenty of ground still to make up. The deep closer
was inconvenienced by being carried out still wider fanning into the stretch.
By that point, the race was already decided. Fort Larned left the pacesetters
standing as he roared to the front, and in just a few strides, he had careered
away by four lengths. Ron the Greek rallied in tandem with Flat Out in deep
stretch, but the closers never appeared likely to catch the winner.
Fort Larned, under considerate handling by Hernandez late, maintained a 1
1/4-length advantage at the wire. After covering 1 1/8 miles on the fast track
in 1:47 4/5, the sharp four-year-old rewarded his loyalists with $16.40, $7 and
"It's a huge honor to win the race named for the Whitneys," Wilkes said." I
was very pleased. Brian did a tremendous job; first time over this track. He
rode a perfect race and moved him at the right time. He put some open lengths
between him and the closers. You couldn't let the closers get to you. He's been
around for a while, and he's a good young rider."
|Fort Larned stole a march on the deep-closing Ron the Greek (far left) and Flat Out (center)
"On the second turn I knew I had a lot of horse," Hernandez said. "I just
stayed out of his way and he toted us around there and took us home. I had a lot
of confidence in him today. Ian called the other day and told me how great he
had been training going into this race. The assistant was bragging on him all
week. We all just had a lot of confidence in him knowing he would run this kind
of race today.
"He's kind of a horse where you need to stay out of his way," the rider
added. "After they put the blinkers on him he's gotten a little more forward. If
you just grab a long line on him and let him do his thing he seems to run
"He got to Ramon's horse (Trickmeister with Ramon Dominguez up) pretty
easily, and when he got by him as fast as he did, I got him to switch leads and
hit him a couple times left-handed. From there it was all him."
Ron the Greek edged stablemate Flat Out by a head for second, and Hall of
Fame trainer Bill Mott was pleased with both efforts.
"Both horses ran excellent," Mott said. "They were head and head coming down
the lane, and both horses ran well and tried hard. I think we got parked out a
little bit on the turn with Ron the Greek. Last time he had an inside trip and
got up by a nose (in the Stephen Foster). Today he went around and it cost him
that length (that he lost by). It looked like they kept coming."
"I rode this horse the whole way," Ron the Greek's rider Jose Lezcano said.
"I had a lot of horse. I couldn't take away his momentum (by trying to find a
better path off the far turn). The winner was very good. The only thing is I had
to go wide."
"He ran excellent," Rosie Napravnik said of her trip aboard Flat Out. "He ran
his race. We were a little wide coming off the turn, but he came down the lane
with a strong run."
Hymn Book checked in another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth.
"Perfect trip," jockey John Velazquez said of Hymn Book. "He was a little
flat down the lane. I was behind the winner the whole way, and I thought I had a
chance to get him, but (Hymn Book) was a little flat."
Trickmeister faded to fifth, followed by Endorsement, Hunters Bay, Caixa
Eletronica and Rule.
Fort Larned more than doubled his career bankroll to $881,236 while advancing
his record to 17-7-2-0. At times showing promise at three, the son of E Dubai
put it all together when adding blinkers, starting with a 6 3/4-length conquest
of an off-the-turf, second level allowance at Churchill Downs last November.
Fort Larned opened 2012 with a fourth in a solid handicap at Tampa Bay Downs in
February, and has gone on to win four of his six subsequent starts.
|Fort Larned is a grandson of Hall of Famer Bayakoa
(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)
After capturing his first stakes in the March 3 Challenger back at Tampa,
Fort Larned set a new track record at Gulfstream Park when taking the Grade 3
Skip Away by 2 1/2 lengths, finishing 1 3/16 miles in 1:53 4/5. Next came a game
second to Successful Dan in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs on Kentucky
Oaks Day, where he left Mucho Macho Man well adrift in third. Fort Larned threw
in a subpar effort when only eighth in the Stephen Foster, but he rebounded in
the aforementioned Cornhusker, turning the tables on Successful Dan, and now
avenged himself on Ron the Greek here.
"This is a free-running horse," Wilkes said. "He can do a lot of things. I
always thought he belonged (up there) in the division. You question yourself
coming off a race like the Stephen Foster; you got beat, you got your head
handed to you there. So you question yourself. But this horse keeps rattling off
those 108 Beyer Speed Figures. He stays consistent.
"Let's enjoy today," Wilkes said when asked about the next objective.
"Obviously, you've got the Woodward (Grade 1 on September 1), but let's see how
he comes out of this."
Mott is looking ahead for both Ron the Greek and Flat Out.
"The Jockey Club Gold Cup [Grade 1 on September 29, Belmont Park) and
Breeders' Cup (Classic at Santa Anita November 3) shouldn't be a problem for
either one," Mott said. "We have to see (if they'll go straight to the Gold Cup
from this race). Most likely for Ron the Greek the next race will be the Jockey
The Kentucky-bred Fort Larned is out of the winning Broad Brush mare Arlucea,
who is also the dam of Grade 1-placed Izarra and stakes-placed Moonport. She is
out of Bayakoa, the nation's champion older mare of 1989-90.
Bayakoa, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in
1998, is likewise the granddam of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Affluent.
The success of Bayakoa's grandson is especially poignant for Whitham, for she
had campaigned Bayakoa with her late husband, Frank.
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