By Jon Forbes | 10/10/2010 03:29 PM ET
It had been nearly 13 months since trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had sent out a 2-year-old debut winner on the dirt, but Fort Hughes’ impressive score on Sunday at Belmont Park made it worth the wait.
With the victory, Fort Hughes joins the New York watch, which profiles up-and-comers that have recently cleared the maiden ranks at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
Fort Hughes, a Darley Stable homebred, quickly seized the lead from post 1 and was pressed by Rift through fractions of 22.34 and 45.24. Jockey Alex Solis flashed the whip at Fort Hughes in the stretch, and that’s all the encouragement the 7-1 shot needed to pull away to a 5 ½-length victory. The final time for 5 ½ furlongs was 1:02.98, 0.72 seconds off the track record set by Mike’s Classic, a 5-year-old, in 2004.
While Darley had high expectations for Fort Hughes from the beginning, McLaughlin admitted he didn’t expect such a strong performance from the chestnut colt.
“He didn’t show brilliant speed in the morning and we didn’t love him because he hadn’t worked lights out,” said McLaughlin. “We train a lot of them on the Greentree Polytrack and it can be hard to get a reading on them first time out. We are happy and surprised that he ran so well. I mean, that was a serious race! I don’t know what we do from here, but we are happy he won so impressively.”
Fort Hughes becomes the 11th winner for his freshman sire Henny Hughes, whom McLaughlin trained for Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s Zabeel Racing International. During his racing career Henny Hughes won the Tremont and Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a juvenile and the following year added victories in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore, Grade 1 King’s Bishop, and Grade 1 Vosburgh.
“There are a lot of similarities,” said McLaughlin when asked to compare Fort Hughes to his sire. “He looks look like him, and he seems to have speed like him, too. Henny Hughes was fun to be around and we’re happy this one won because we thought he’d have more winners by now. But if they’re this good, that’s fine.”
Fort Hughes is the second foal and first winner out of Forty Greeta, who was named Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in Argentina after opening her career with four consecutive victories, including a four-length triumph in the Group 1 Estrellas Juvenile Fillies, that country’s equivalent of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Many of the industry’s brightest stars embarked upon their careers at the NYRA tracks, including a number of recent Triple Crown race winners. Super Saver, Big Brown, Jazil, Birdstone, Funny Cide, and Empire Maker are all among the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes victors that kick-started their careers at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, or Saratoga.
The list also includes recent champions Gio Ponti and Indian Blessing; brilliant fillies Flashing, Little Belle, Music Note, and Devil May Care; Quality Road, triumphant in the 2010 Metropolitan Handicap and Woodward; and Afleet Express, winner of this year’s Travers.