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Fort Larned Sets Out to Make History in G1 Whitney Invitational Handicap

By Jenny Kellner | 07/31/2013 03:02 PM ET
Fort Larned
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

Since its inaugural running in 1928, only three horses have managed to win multiple editions of the Whitney Invitational Handicap, and only one – Discovery – won consecutive runnings.

Saturday, on the official 150th birthday of Saratoga Race Course, last year’s winner, Fort Larned, is the 7-5 morning-line favorite to join Discovery as he faces seven top older horses in the 86th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney. The 1 1/8-mile race, which will be telecast live on NBC from 5-6 p.m., is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup race, with the winner receiving an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with all pre-entry and entry fees paid and a $10,000 travel award.

Fort Larned, trained by Ian Wilkes for Janis Whitham, earned his first Grade 1 victory in the 2012 Whitney and closed out the year with a dramatic half-length victory over Mucho Macho Man in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. After an inauspicious start to his 5-year-old campaign – losing his rider in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 9 and finishing fifth as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap – Fort Larned blazed to a 6 ¼-length win in the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 15 at Churchill Downs, his third Grade 1 victory.

“Let’s hope we can have a little bit more luck this year,” said Wilkes. “He’s coming into the race great. To win back-to-back Whitneys would be quite an accomplishment. Discovery won it three times in a row [1934-36], and [Commentator 2005, 2008 and Kelso 1961, 1963, 1965] won it multiple times. To stay in good form and be able to have a chance to do that says something about the horse.”

Fort Larned, who will carry high weight of 122 pounds including jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., drew post position 3 for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney.

“I’ve learned not to worry about the post position; the horse has always taken care of me,” said Wilkes of Fort Larned, 9-2-1 from 22 career starts with earnings of more than $4 million. “I drew a little inside in the [Breeders’ Cup] Classic in the 4 hole, and I came out of post 2 in the Stephen Foster. I just leave it up to him.”

Second choice in the Whitney at 5-2 on the morning line is the lightly raced but promising Cross Traffic. The 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt won his first two career starts this year at Gulfstream Park, then was beaten a head by Belmont Park specialist Flat Out in the Grade 3 Westchester in his stakes debut, and a nose by Sahara Sky in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, both times having drawn the rail.


In the Whitney, Cross Traffic drew post position 4 to the delight of trainer Todd Pletcher.

“I’m pleased with the draw,” said Pletcher, who will give a leg up to Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. “I’m happy that we drew outside Fort Larned as I anticipate the two of us will be significant pace factors in the race.”

Second as the favorite in last year’s Whitney, Ron the Greek is the co-third choice at 6-1 with Mucho Macho Man in his return for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Fourth in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Ron the Greek opened his 6-year-old campaign with an 11 ¼-length win in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, followed by a fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, a third in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic and another third in the Stephen Foster.

“I think he’s like a lot of horses - I don’t think he runs his best race every time,” said Mott of the Brous Stable color-bearer. “It seems like about every third shot he jumps up and runs a good one. Last year, actually, we felt after it was all said and done that the Whitney was probably his biggest race of the year, even though we were second. We got beat by a horse [Fort Larned] that was much better than us on the day.”

 Jose Lezcano will ride from post position 5.

Mucho Macho Man will be making his third appearance at the Spa, having finished second by a neck in the Grade 1 Woodward last year and third in a maiden race in 2010. Pulled up in the Sunshine Millions, the 5-year-old son of Macho Uno came back five months later at Belmont Park to finish third in the Criminal Type overnight stakes at Belmont Park.

“This year, we had a slow start,” said Kathy Ritvo, who trains Mucho Macho Man for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing. “We ran into a track that was not to his liking. Then, he came up with a virus. We restarted everything because he’s such a good horse. He came back and had a really good race in the Criminal Type at Belmont. It was similar to his race in the Alysheba last year before he won the Suburban. It was a good race, and it turned out to be a tough race. We were proud of his effort. I think it has set him up perfectly.”

Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride Mucho Macho Man from post position 2.

Godolphin Racing’s Alpha made history last year at Saratoga, hitting the wire as one with Golden Ticket in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers, the first time in 144 years the “Mid-Summer Derby” had two official winners. Unbeaten in three starts at the Spa, including the Grade 2 Jim Dandy last year and a maiden victory in 2011, the Bernardini 4-year-old looks to return to the winner’s circle after having gone winless in five starts since the Travers.

“He loves it here [at Saratoga],” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He’s training great, but we found a tough field to run against. We hope the track is in our favor. He really looks great. He didn’t run great [in Dubai], but he didn’t run great in his last two for us. They did a good job, he looks fabulous, he couldn’t be doing any better – it’s just a tough race.”

At 10-1 on the morning line, Alpha will leave from post position 6 with Joel Roasrio aboard.

Successful Dan’s fourth-place finish in the Stephen Foster last time out was the first time the 7-year-old gelding had been worse than third since August, 2010. In his first start of 2013, the Morton Fink color-bearer and older half-brother of Horse of the Year Wise Dan was a one-length winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland Race Course.

“He has a lot of talent and when he’s right, he’s really good,” said trainer Charles LoPresti. “We’ve had some problems with him, but I think we’ve got him good right now. He likes it here. He’s training really well. He’s had two good breezes over the track. I think he’s going to have a big effort. I hope he will, anyway.”

Julien Leparoux will ride Successful Dan, 12-1 on the morning line, from the rail.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, trainer of two-time Whitney winner Commentator, will saddle 15-1 shot Fast Falcon, who drew the outside post position 8. In his most recent appearance at Saratoga, the 4-year-old Awesome Again colt charged from last to finish just a neck behind Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Travers. He is 0-2-2 in five starts this year, most recently finishing third to Flat Out in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 6 at Belmont Park.

“He’s a horse who comes from behind, so it’d be nice if he can save some ground,” said Zito. “Junior Alvarado is a terrific jockey and fits him well. We’ll just go from there. I’m hoping he’ll drop over a little bit, but it’d be nice if we were already there. The main thing is the horse is doing well and deserves a shot.”

Rounding out the field at 20-1 from post position 7 is Csaba, most recently third in the Grade 3 Salvatore Mile at Monmouth Park. The 4-year-old Kitten’s Joy colt was second in an off-the-turf edition of the Grade 2 Hall of Fame last year at the Spa.

“Our original plan was to run in [the Birdstone] on Friday as a prep for the Woodward and let these horses knock themselves out a little bit and catch them when they weren’t so fresh,” said trainer Phil Gleaves, who will give a leg up to jockey Luis Saez. “When that race didn’t fill, [owner Bruce] Hollander and I discussed it, and we felt we should be in here. I have never seen the horse look so good. I have never seen the horse train better. He’s been up here for a month. I think we deserve a shot in here. The odds don’t bother me. I think he fits with these horses. He’s an improving horse. We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of him yet. There are still some bigger races to come from him. I think he’ll run very well.”

2013 Whitney Handicap Field









Successful Dan 118 Morton Fink Charles LoPresti Julien Leparoux 12-1


Mucho Macho Man 119 Reeves Thoroughbred Racing Kathy Ritvo Edgar Prado 6-1


Fort Larned 122 Janis Whitham Ian Wilkes Brian Hernandez, Jr. 7-5


Cross Traffic 117 Goldmark Farm Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 5 -2


Ron The Greek 118 Brous Stable Bill Mott Jose Lezcano 6-1


Alpha 115 Godolphin Racing Kiaran McLaughlin Joel Rosario 10-1


Csaba 114 Bruce Hollander Philip Gleaves Luis Saez 20-1


Fast Falcon 114 Richard C. Pell Nicholas Zito Junior Alvarado 15-1