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Wilkes Begins Life Without Fort Larned

Fort Larned wins 2013 Homecoming Classic.
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
The return to his longtime home at Churchill Downs was very brief for Fort Larned following his strong fourth-place run behind Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s victorious Mucho Macho Man in his bid for a second consecutive victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Santa Anita.

Janice Whitham’s 5-year-old homebred arrived in Louisville late Sunday and settled briefly into his stall in the barn of trainer Ian Wilkes. By midmorning on Monday, Fort Larned was on a van that carried him to a new home at Adena Springs Farm near Lexington and his second career as a stallion.

“I emailed Mrs. Whitham and said it was a sad day, but a happy day,” Wilkes recalled. “You never want to see it end with a good horse, because they’re hard to find. But then we were happy to see him leaving the barn sound, happy and going to his new career. Now we’ll just look forward to his babies, and hopefully he’ll do us proud in the breeding shed.”

The departure of Fort Larned, who earned $4,471,322 while winning 10 of 25 races for Larned, created a huge vacancy in Wilkes stable. The end of his racing career was clearly a bittersweet moment for those close to him, but Wilkes was proud of his star’s final run in Saturday’s memorable Classic, a race in which Fort Larned set the pace under pressure before giving way with just over a furlong to run.

The horses that attempted to run with Fort Larned the Classic were not up to the task. Favored Game On Dude faded to ninth, while the 3-year-old Moreno ended up 10th in the field of 11.

“I’m proud of him,” Wilkes said. “He ran unbelievable. He just didn’t get a breather. Last year he went the same fractions, but he was able get out there and coast alone. There was a lot more pressure this year.”

Wilkes viewed the result as further evidence of the superiority of the older horses that campaigned in the eastern U.S. – a group that included the victorious Mucho Macho Man and runner-up Will Take Charge.

“Look what Mucho Macho Man did when he went out there and won the (Grade I) Awesome Again,’ Wilkes said. “None of the West Coast horses finished close to us.”

Fort Larned made his bid for back-to-back wins in the Classic following a hard-luck season during which Wilkes had to do considerable ad-libbing to get his star back to Santa Anita. While the result was not what Wilkes had hoped, he believes that Fort Larned’s Classic run should have proved to any remaining doubters that his 2012 Classic win and other Grade I victories in the Saratoga’s Whitney and Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap were true indications of his horse’s talent and ability.

“I think it validated a lot of things,” Wilkes said. “His Classic win was not a one-race performance. This year was a real roller-coaster ride, but that’s part of racing. He was a special horse.”

While Fort Larned has moved on, Wilkes still has a talented older horse in his care in A. Stevens Miles’ 4-year-old Neck ‘n Neck, who won the Indiana Derby (GII) and Churchill Downs’ Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) at age 3 before he went to the sidelines after being injured while training for the Clark Handicap.

Wilkes hopes to have Neck ‘n Neck ready for a bid for this year’s Clark Handicap, which will be run Nov. 29, but he feels the colt needs a prep race prior to that 1 1/8-mile test. He returned to racing on Oct. 5 with a third-place run in the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial at Indiana Downs, but Wilkes has been frustrated so far in efforts to find an allowance prep to prepare Neck ‘n Neck for the Clark.

“I can’t get a race to fill for him,” Wilkes said. “I don’t want to sit there and train him for nine weeks since his last race.  That’s no good.”

Neck ‘n Neck is entered in Saturday’s second race at Churchill Downs, but that is a one-mile race scheduled for the Matt Winn Turf Course and he will run in that race only if it is moved from the turf to the main tack because of weather or course conditions.

 

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