Ian Wilkes took some heat among race fans for keeping reigning Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned at his home track of Churchill Downs to run in the inaugural $191,275 Homecoming Classic last Saturday instead of shipping to Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in New York.
"I don't have to ship," Wilkes said after the horse worked five furlongs in 1:02 earlier in the week. "The ultimate goal is to get to the Breeders' Cup."
As expected, the Janis Whitham homebred Fort Larned and jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. took the early lead in the field of six (after the scratch of Golden Ticket), setting a sharp pace of :23.50 for the first quarter and :47.15 for the first half of the 1 1/8 mile route. Steve Asmussen’s Prayer for Relief and Brendan Walsh’s Wordly swapped turns for the second spot until the top of the stretch when it looked as if Wordly had a chance to get close enough to threaten the leader. The chance was short-lived as Windswept and jockey Corey Lanerie powered through in deep stretch to grab second place, 1 ½ lengths behind winner Fort Larned. Wordly finished 2 ¼ lengths back in third and Agent Di Nozzo was another four lengths back in fourth. The final time was 1:48.58.
“I missed the last race in the Woodward and I needed this race today to get to where I want to be,” said Wilkes after the race. “I’m not taking anything away from any of the other horses here, but I wasn’t 100-percent today. I wanted this race to move forward off of.”
“We got the performance we needed out of him,” said Hernandez. “He went around there and did his job and galloped out really good. Now we’re ready to go to California. He got a little tired, but I went ahead and I made him gallop-out pretty good so we can have him at a 100 percent for the big one.”
The “big one” for Wilkes, Whitham, Hernandez and Fort Larned will be the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Ca. Nov. 2 where they will try to repeat with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Charlie Lopresti’s Homecoming runner-up, Windswept, and jockey Corey Lanerie, who have two wins at Churchill Downs, plan to return to the historic track in the fall for the Grade 1 Clark Handicap Nov. 29.
”If we’d just been a little closer or somebody had pressed him (Fort Larned), I think we could have won the race,” said Lopresti. “I think he’s a good horse. Believe me, two more jumps and he had him. He was flying. This horse is a good horse. When Corey asked him, he was just flying. I’m happy with him. I’ll be back in the Clark.”
Fort Larned returned $2.60, $2.20, and $2.10. Windswept paid $4.40 and 3.60 and completed the $2 exacta for $10.60. Worldy paid $6.00 and completed the $2 trifecta for $89.40. Agent Di Nozzo completed the $2 superfecta for $272.60. The final time for the 1 1/8 mile race over the fast dirt was 1:48:58.
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer