Fort Larned surges clear in Stephen Foster. (Photo Courtesy of Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs)
The 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic gave out it’s first guaranteed spot in the race’s starting gate on Saturday with Fort Larned winning the Stephen Foster Handicap, a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race.
Fort Larned winning the first “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic is fitting as he won the Classic in 2012. If he does enter the Classic in November, he will become the fifth horse since Tiznow won the race in 2000-2001 to attempt the back-to-back double.
Fort Larned’s early career didn’t give much of an indication of what he would become only a few short years later.
In his first six starts, he only won once and even had a hard time hitting the board, only posting a top-three finish one other time in that span. It wasn’t until 2012 that Fort Larned finally found a way to consistently end up in the money, winning two of his first three races that year. He won a pair of stakes than finished a close second to Successful Dan in the 2012 Alysheba Stakes, prompting his connections to enter him in his first Grade 1 event, the Stephen Foster.
After getting carried out by another horse in the late stages of the race, he could only finish eighth but that was his last off-the-board of the year.
With a class of older horses that included Wise Dan, Point of Entry, and Game On Dude, Fort Larned got lost in the shuffle last year and, looking at his record, it is hard to see why. He won five of his nine starts, all stakes races, including the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap, and he finished on the board in two other graded stakes. However, he only went off as the fifth choice in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the end of the year, showing how underrated he was among fans and handicappers. He went on to wire the Breeders’ Cup Classic field with only Mucho Macho Man within seven lengths of him at the finish.
FORT LARNED AFTER BREEDERS' CUP
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
The 2013 Stephen Foster was a fitting return to the winner’s circle for the 5-year-old horse. In his first race of the year, Fort Larned stumbled at the start and lost jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. The race may be one of the most memorable of the year as Fort Larned went on to run on his own and “won” by about eight lengths. That “win” did not count, however, because a horse has to complete the race with his rider aboard to be eligible for the victory.
RIDERLESS FORT LARNED PULLS AWAY
Photo courtesy of Bob Coglianese Photos/Eleanor Gustafson
Fort Larned returned to the track a month later where he finished fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap as the favorite. It may be safe to put a line through the race after his blazing performance – sans rider - the month before. Fort Larned’s Equibase Speed Figure for the Oaklawn Handicap came in at 106, the lowest number he has earned since the 2012 Stephen Foster, seven starts before this year’s edition.
In this year’s Stephen Foster, Fort Larned bounced back to earn a 129 Equibase Speed Figure, which was a new career best. The figure was well deserved as he crushed a highly accomplished group of horses and was less than a fifth of a second off a 14-year-old track record set by Victory Gallop.
“That was amazing,” Hernandez Jr. said. “We were going down the backside and were cooking right along and the poles were going by pretty fast, but he was always doing it well within himself, so I wasn’t really worried about it. When we turned for home, I pulled the stick through and he switched leads like the Fort Larned of old.”
If it is possible, Fort Larned looks to be getting better with age. While Fort Larned won three races as a 3-year-old, he undoubtedly came back as a much stronger 4-year-old. He finally earned his first triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure in February 2012 and has only been below 100 twice since then - once in the 2012 Stephen Foster and the other when he lost his rider and thus was not assigned a speed figure.
The horse’s rough start to the year may have created some doubters but if he can string together another summer and fall like last year, it will be hard to fault the horse at the end of the year.
Fort Larned is by Pennsylvania-based sire E Dubai, who is one of the last major sons of breed-changing sire Mr. Prospector standing at stud. E Dubai was successful in American stakes competition from 1 1/16 to 1 ¼ miles. While he never won a Grade 1 race and finished 11th in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic, he was Grade 1-placed and scored a victory in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap. From 573 starters in eight crops of racing age, E Dubai has 26 stakes winners and two champions for more than $33 million in progeny earnings.
Fort Larned’s female family is equally as strong as his sire. While his dam, Arlucea, only won one race in her career, she has produced three stakes-placed performers, including Grade 1-placed Izarra. Arlucea is out of champion Bayakoa, who is one of only two mares to win the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (then the Breeders’ Cup Distaff) twice.
A bit confusingly, Bayakoa is out of another Arlucea, an Argentina-bred. That Arlucea was a stakes winner in her native Argentina and a half-sister (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to a filly who produced another group stakes winner.
Between Fort Larned’s race record and his pedigree, it won’t be a surprise if he becomes successful in the breeding shed. But first, he will run a near identical campaign to his road to the Breeders’ Cup last year. It looks like he will get a month and a half off before his next start by skipping the Cornhusker Handicap, a race he won in 2012.
Fort Larned is headed to Saratoga for his next race, a return in the Whitney Handicap. The horse won the race last year in a “Win and You’re In” victory that earned him a spot in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic.