Do you know where you will be in 140 days? Fort Larned does. With an awesome combination of speed and class, the defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champion ran a solid field absolutely off their feet in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, and in the process, became the first horse to clinch a spot in the Classic starting gate.
Hitting the track running from his inside post position, Fort Larned and Brian Hernandez, Jr. out sprinted Take Charge Indy to the first turn, and from there left little doubt as to who the best horse on this night would be. In what could only be described as a tour-de-force, the impressive bay maintained a working margin over Take Charge Indy through a solid half in :46.96, and six in 1:10.48, with the rest of field strung out behind them. By the time the field of six hit the far turn, it was clear that Fort Larned was still full of run. With only Golden Ticket and Ron the Greek mounting any sort of rally, the leader always looked like a winner and poured it on through the stretch as he continued to widen his lead to the wire.
On a track not exactly yielding fast times, the five-year-old son of E Dubai covered the nine panels in an excellent 1:47.45, just a tick off the track record at the historic Louisville oval. The 6 1/4-length victory over Golden Ticket for the Janis Whitham homebred was the second biggest margin in Foster history, falling just short of the 6 ½ length score by Street Cry back eleven years ago.
In grabbing his third grade 1 tally of his career, the Ian Wilkes trained runner improved his record to 9 wins in 22 lifetime starts, while breaking the $4 million mark in earnings. He also redeemed his 0-for-2 mark since his big win last fall at Santa Anita.
“He ran unbelievable,” Wilkes said. “It was gratifying to get the horse back and to prove that he’s as good as I thought he was and show he wasn’t a one-year wonder.”
In fairness, he looked the part of a champion while running riderless after dumping his rider in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, but his last performance, a fifth place finish in the Oaklawn Park Handicap, was a real head-scratcher.
All that is forgotten now, as Fort Larned looked as impressive and powerful as he ever has, and maybe even more so. A performance like the one tonight, by the defending champ, puts the first horse to qualify for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the very top of the list of contenders for the big race on November 2. To date, only Tiznow has been able to win the Classic twice … Fort Larned may be just the horse to become the second.