Reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned stamped his ticket back to the big stage in this season’s first Breeders’ Cup Win & You’re In race when he took a field of six wire-to-wire in the Grade 1 $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. A crowd of 23,509 came out for the spring meet’s first Downs After Dark program to witness the 6 ¼ length victory by the Ian Wilkes runner. It was the first win for Fort Larned since his November Breeders’ Cup Classic win and two disappointing races earlier in the year.
“He ran unbelievable,” said Wilkes. “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.”
Jockey Brian Hernandez and Fort Larned were on the lead early setting sharp fractions of :23.69 for the first quarter mile and 46.96 for the half mile. His final time for the 1 1/8 mile race was 1:47.45, just missing the record of 1:47.28 set by Victory Gallop in 1999. Post-time favorite, Take Charge Indy, stayed with the winner through much of the race, along with second choice Successful Dan.
As Take Charge Indy and Successful Dan began to fade coming into the stretch, Kenny McPeek’s Golden Ticket was there to pick up the pieces, but Fort Larned was too far gone and unable to catch. Bill Mott’s Ron the Greek closed sharply from fifth, but couldn’t do better than third, finishing four lengths behind Golden Ticket.
“That was amazing,” said Hernandez. “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.”
Take Charge Indy, who won the Grade 2 Alysheba on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, was just off the pace through much of the race, but finished last, beaten nearly 20 lengths.
“We were never running in hand and we were never going to beat the winner, that’s for sure,” said trainer Pat Byrne. “I thought he had enough time between races, but he ran like he kind of bounced a little bit. Rosie [jockey Rosie Napravnik] just said she never really had any horse.”
Charlie LoPresti’s Successful Dan, who’s battled setbacks due to injuries throughout his career, but managed to finish first eight times in 12 starts, finished fourth under jockey Julie Leparoux.
“That horse [Fort Larned] just got loose on the front end and kept going and Julien said our horse was having trouble getting a hold of it,” said LoPresti. “He was bobbling the whole way. I don’t know that he handled the track that well tonight.”
Fort Larned returned $8.60, $5.20, and $3.60. Golden Ticket paid $7.20 and $3.40 and completed the $2 exacta for $69.40. Ron the Greek paid $3.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $208.40. Successful Dan completed the $2 superfecta for $647. The final time for the 1 1/8 mile race over the fast dirt was 1:47.45.
Photo: Churchill Downs / Reed Palmer Photography