Janis R. Whitham
’s Fort Larned
the reigning winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I)
and a dazzling victor in this year’s Stephen Foster Handicap
(GI) at Churchill Downs
, will tune-up for his bid to score
consecutive wins in the Breeders’ Cup race when he faces two fellow
Grade I stakes winners in a talented field of seven entered for the
first running of the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic
during the “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka”
night racing program on Saturday, Sept. 28.
The Homecoming Classic, run
at 1 1/8 miles over the main track for 3-year-olds and up, was designed
to be a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare
(GI) on Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs. The race appears to have met
those expectations in its inaugural running by attracting a trio of
Grade I stakes winners in Fort Larned, Pool Play and Golden Ticket; stakes winners Prayer for Relief,
Worldly and Agent Di Nozzo; and Windswept, who comes into the race off back-to-back allowance wins in search of his first stakes victory.
The first running of the Homecoming Classic is scheduled as the seventh event on an 11-race “Downs After Dark” program with the theme of “Homecoming Dance: A Night to Remember.”
Post time for the first
race is 6 p.m. (all times Eastern) and admission gates will open at 4
p.m. The scheduled post time for the Homecoming Classic is 9:05 p.m.
The Homecoming Classic shares the racing spotlight with the 36th running of the $100,000-added Jefferson Cup (GIII) for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf. The Jefferson Cup, which will
follow the Homecoming Classic as the eighth race, starts a 50-cent minimum Pick Four with a guaranteed pool of $100,000 that will cover the night’s final four races.
Despite his rivals’ considerable on-track accomplishments, the Ian Wilkes-trained
Fort Larned figures to be a strong favorite for the Homecoming Classic.
He has had an uneven 2013 campaign since his Breeders’
Cup Classic victory last fall at Santa Anita and has scored only one
victory in four attempts.
But his lone
victory was a dazzling 6 ¼-length romp in the $500,000 Stephen Foster
Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 15, an effort that ranks among the
year’s most impressive performances by an older horse
in North America. The Stephen Foster triumph lifted Fort Larned’s
Churchill Downs record to 2-1-0 in five races and his career slate to
9-2-1 in 21 races with earnings of $4,053,917.
Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr.
be in the saddle aboard Fort Larned. The 5-year-old son of E Dubai will
start from post five and carry high weight of 125 pounds, conceding from
two to four pounds to his rivals.
Fort Larned will not be the only winner of the Stephen Foster Handicap competing in the Homecoming Classic. William S. Farish Jr.’s
Pool Play won the 2011 running of the Grade I Churchill Downs race at
odds of 36-1. The 8-year-old homebred son of Silver Deputy will be
looking to snap a seven-race losing streak that dates to an October
victory in the Washington Park Handicap (GIII) over the synthetic
Polytrack surface at Arlington Park.
Miguel Mena, who was aboard for Pool Play’s Stephen Foster shocker, will be in the saddle for trainer Mark Casse. Pool Play drew the rail post and will bring a career record of 7-7-7 in 39 races and
earnings of $1,311,458 into Saturday’s race.
The third Grade I winner in the talented Homecoming Classic field is Magic City Thoroughbred Partners’ Golden Ticket, who finished in a dead-heat for the win with Alpha in the 2012 running of the
$1 million Travers (GI) at Saratoga. The Kenny McPeek-trained
4-year-old son of Speightstown was the distant runner-up to Fort Larned
in this year’s Stephen Foster and followed that effort with an easy
eight-length win in the Prairie Meadows Handicap
in late July.
Jockey Robby Albarado
has the mount on Golden Ticket, who will break from post eight and carry
121 pounds. He has run 18 times with a record of 5-5-3 and career
earnings of $896,323.
Outside of the Grade I-winning trio, the most accomplished member of the Homecoming Classic field is Zayat Stables LLC’s Prayer for Relief, a 5-year-old son of Jump Start with five career stakes wins to his
credit. Now trained by Steve Asmussen, Prayer for Relief comes
into Saturday’s race off back-to-back stakes victories in the Prairie
Meadows Cornhusker (GIII) and the Governor’s Cup at Remington Park,
where he defeated Homecoming Classic rival Worldly
by a head. Those stakes wins were the first for Prayer for Relief since a
three-race stakes string in 2011 for former trainer Bob Baffert that included victories the Super Derby (GII), West Virginia Derby (GII) and the Iowa Derby (GIII).
Prayer for Relief, who will carry 123 pounds and break from post four, will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. His career record stands at 7-5-4 in 22 races with earnings of $1,524,725.
Chad Shumer’s Worldly
comes into the race off his near miss against Prayer for Relief in the
Remington Park Governor’s Cup. A victory in the 2011 Prairie Meadows
Handicap is the only stakes win by the 6-year-old
son of A.P. Indy, but he has run well in stakes races at several tracks.
Trained by Paul McGee for most of his career, Worldly has
runner-up finishes in the Northern Dancer (now known as the Grade III
Matt Winn) at Churchill Downs and Ohio Derby (GIII)
in 2010 and third-place runs in the 2009 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at
Churchill Downs and the 2011 Remington Park Governor’s Cup to go with
his two solid stakes runs this year.
Now trained by Brendan Walsh, Worldly break from post six under jockey David Flores and will carry 121 pounds. Worldly has earned $353,383 while compiling a career record of 3-9-3 in 26 races – including
a slate of 2-4-1 in eight starts at Churchill Downs.
Robert and Lawana Low’s Agent Di Nozzo enters Saturday’s race off a disappointing fifth-place finish behind Wilcox Inn
in the Washington Park Handicap (GIII) on the Polytrack course at
Park. But he has a pair of stakes wins to his credit in the $100,000
Golden Beer and Indiana Downs. The 4-year-old Ghostzapper gelding is
trained by Steve Margolis and has a 7-2-1 record in 15 career races and has earned $268,842.
Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Agent Di Nozzo, who will carry 121 pounds and break from post seven.
Rounding out the field is
Windswept, a winner of back-to-back allowance races at Saratoga and
Churchill Downs for trainer Charlie LoPresti, the trainer of reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
son of Arch has had some issues with injuries since he launched his
racing career in October of 2010 and has raced only eight times over
four years. But Windswept enters Saturday’s race off a sparkling 9
½-length allowance romp at Saratoga and will bid for
his first stakes victory in only his second attempt.
Windswept will break from post two under Corey Lanerie, the co-leading rider of the September meet with 13 wins through Sunday. He will carry 121 pounds in the Homecoming Classic.