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Breeders' Cup 2017

Fort Larned Has Wilkes Smiling

Fort Larned wins 2013 Homecoming Classic.
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
While his win as the odds-on favorite in the first running of Churchill Downs’ $191,275 Homecoming Classic was anything but a surprise, the effort by the victorious odds-on favorite Fort Larned has trainer Ian Wilkes smiling as he looks down the road toward his star’s bid for a repeat victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (Grade I) at Santa Anita.

Janis R. Whitham’s 5-year-old son of E Dubai led from start-to-finish under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. in his 1 ½-length victory over the late-running Windswept to score his second victory in five 2013 races. The winning time for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track was a very solid 1:48.58.

The race was the first for Fort Larned since a disappointing fifth-place run as the favorite in Saratoga’s Whitney on Aug 3. A planned start in the Aug. 31 Woodward (GI) over the New York track was scrapped by Wilkes when Fort Larned was determined to have suffered a muscle strain in his rear end. Training time lost to that injury made Saturday’s run in the Homecoming Classic critical to Wilkes’ preparation of Fort Larned for his bid for back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classic wins.

“The horse needed the race,” Wilkes said on the morning after the Homecoming Classic victory. “He got everything out of it that I wanted from it, because we had to miss a little bit of training with that muscle issue early on after the Woodward. He just wasn’t 100-percent. But he looked bright and alert this morning and he got a lot out of the race, so that was good.”

Saturday’s win was the second in five 2013 starts for Fort Larned, who collected his other win over the same surface with a dazzling run in the $536,300 Stephen Foster Handicap Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) on June 15.

With the Homecoming Classic underneath Fort Larned, Wilkes can now fine-tune his reigning champion in the weeks leading up to his Breeders’ Cup Classic defense on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

“Everything has to go right now,” Wilkes said. “Everything has to be perfect, timing has to be right, everything has to be spot-on. You can’t make any mistakes now going to the Breeders’ Cup.”

The Homecoming Classic victory boosted Fort Larned’s career record to 10-2-1 in 24 races and lifted his earnings to $4,171,322.

Smiles also were the order for the morning about an hour west off Interstate 64 at the Keeneland barn of trainer Charlie LoPresti, who witnessed a flying runner-up finish to Fort Larned by the Estate of Elaine Klein (Richard Klein) and Bertram Klein’s Windswept.

The strong Homecoming Classic run snapped a two-race win streak for the Klein homebred. But it was good enough for LoPresti to circle the 139th running of the $500,000-added Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) – a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up scheduled for Friday, Nov. 29 – as the next target for his rising star.

“We’ll shoot for the Clark if everything goes right, with no races in-between,” LoPresti said by telephone. “He seemed to come out of his race good. We thought he ran good. He was flying late and we’re proud of him.”

The runner-up finish to Fort Larned improved the career record for the lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Arch to 3-2-1 in nine races with earnings of $205,168.

LoPresti has been a regular participant in the Clark in recent years. He won its 2011 running with Mort Fink’s homebred Wise Dan, who would earn “Horse of the Year” and turf champion honors in 2012. Fink’s Successful Dan finished first in the 2010 Clark, but the older half-brother to Wise Dan was disqualified for interference in the stretch and placed third when Giant Oak was awarded the victory.


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