Updated 08/04/2012 07:17 PM
The Spa Spot: Fort Larned surprises in the 85th Whitney
Janis R. Whitham's Fort Larned spurted to the lead at the top of the stretch and withstood the charge of three accomplished closers to capture the 85th Whitney Invitational Handicap Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Marylou Whitney presented the trophy in the winner's circle after the race.
Fort Larned, trained by Ian Wilkes and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., won by 1 1/4 lengths and paid $16.40 as the 7-1 fifth choice in the nine-horse field. Ron the Greek, the 5-2 favorite, was second. Flat Out was third and Hymn Book checked in fourth.
“It’s a huge honor to win the race named for the Whitneys. I was very pleased," Wilkes said. "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.”
It was the first Grade 1 win for the 4-year-old E Dubai colt and earned him an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Fort Larned has won four of seven races this year, most recently the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap on June 30 at Prairie Meadows. His only poor performance in 2012 was in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 16 when he was last in a field of eight.
“This is a free-running horse. He can do a lot of things," Wilkes said. "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.”
Hernandez put Fort Larned into a stalking trip behind the pacesetters Endorsement and Trickmeister, who covered six furlongs in 1:10.86, then surged to the front at the quarter pole. He opened up a several-lengths lead at the top of the stretch, but had to deal with the closers inside the sixteenth pole.
“On the second turn I knew I had a lot of horse," Hernandez, 26, 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.”
Bill Mott, who trains Ron the Greek and Flat Out, was satisfied with their performances.
“Both horses ran excellent," he 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. Today he went around and it cost him that length.”