Under jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., who also won his first Grade 1, Fort Larned left from the far outside and immediately positioned himself in third as Endorsement led the field of nine older horses through an opening quarter-mile in 23.42 seconds, with the half going in 46.97. Moving up three wide on the turn, Fort Larned poked a head in front approaching the quarter pole and quickly spurted clear, opening up by four lengths at the top of the stretch, more than enough to fend off the late challenges from Ron the Greek, Flat Out and Hymn Book.
“On the second turn I knew I had a lot of horse,” said the Kentucky-based Hernandez, who was making his Saratoga debut in the Whitney. “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. [The trainer] 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.”
The Whitney, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Race, gives Fort Larned an automatic berth in the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3 at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old E Dubai colt, winner of the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap on June 30, had made only one Grade 1 start prior to the Whitney, finishing last of eight behind Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 16 at Churchill Downs.
“I always thought he belonged [up there] in the division,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner Janis Whitham. “You question yourself coming off a race like the Stephen Foster; you got beat, you got your head handed to you. But this horse keeps rattling off those 108 Beyer Speed Figures. He stays consistent.”
Ron the Greek, who also won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap this year, was a head in front of stablemate Flat Out, with Hymn Book another 1 ½ lengths back in fourth.
“Both horses ran excellent,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott of Ron the Greek and Flat Out. “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 [that he lost by].”
Completing the order of finish behind Hymn Book were Trickmeister, Endorsement, Hunters Bay, Caixa Eletronica, and Rule.
Fort Larned, sent off at 7-1, returned $16.40 for a $2 win bet and earned $450,000, more then doubling his bankroll to $881,236. Overall, he is 7-2-0 from 17 starts, including 2012 victories in the Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream Park.
Wilkes said he was not sure what the next start for Fort Larned would be, but mentioned the Grade 1, $750,000 Woodward on September 1 at Saratoga as a possibility.
“Let’s enjoy today,” said Wilkes. “Obviously, you’ve got the Woodward, but let’s see how he comes out of this.”