WHITNEY INVITATIONAL | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8-MILES
Janis R. Whitham's homebred Fort Larned joined the upper echelon of the nation's handicap division by scoring his first Grade 1 coup in Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga. Unleashing a monster move for Brian Hernandez Jr. leaving the far turn, the Ian Wilkes trainee opened up an insurmountable lead, and safely held the closing trio of Ron the Greek, Flat Out and Hymn Book.
Fort Larned was defeating the winners of several Grade 1 events -- the Santa Anita Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap (Ron the Greek), the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Flat Out) and the Donn Handicap (Hymn Book) -- in a competitive renewal of the Whitney. Ron the Greek earned 5-2 favoritism in his quest for a third Grade 1 victory of the season, Hymn Book went off as the 7-2 second choice, and Flat Out was third in the betting at 4-1.
Perhaps because of his low-key connections, Fort Larned was overlooked for some time in the wagering, despite the fact that he was on the upgrade, and coming off a convincing win over Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. His odds ultimately contracted a bit, however, and he left the gate as the 7-1 fifth choice.
Endorsement hustled to the early lead and was alternately pressed and tracked by Trickmeister through splits of :23 2/5 and :46 4/5. Fort Larned was parked in a stalking third on the outside, but the late-running Ron the Greek was unhurried in his usual last.
On the far turn, Fort Larned drew alongside Endorsement and Trickmeister as they grappled through six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Much farther back, Ron the Greek was beginning to unwind, with plenty of ground still to make up. The deep closer was inconvenienced by being carried out still wider fanning into the stretch.
By that point, the race was already decided. Fort Larned left the pacesetters standing as he roared to the front, and in just a few strides, he had careered away by four lengths. Ron the Greek rallied in tandem with Flat Out in deep stretch, but the closers never appeared likely to catch the winner.
Fort Larned, under considerate handling by Hernandez late, maintained a 1 1/4-length advantage at the wire. After covering 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:47 4/5, the sharp four-year-old rewarded his loyalists with $16.40, $7 and $4.30.
Ron the Greek edged Flat Out by a head for second, and Hymn Book checked in another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth. Trickmeister faded to fifth, followed by Endorsement, Hunters Bay, Caixa Eletronica and Rule.
Fort Larned more than doubled his career bankroll to $881,236 while advancing his record to 17-7-2-0. At times showing promise at three, the son of E Dubai signaled that he was putting it all together with a 6 3/4-length conquest of an off-the-turf, second level allowance at Churchill Downs last November. Fort Larned opened 2012 with a fourth in a solid handicap at Tampa Bay Downs in February, and has gone on to win four of his six subsequent starts.
After capturing his first stakes in the March 3 Challenger back at Tampa, Fort Larned set a new track record at Gulfstream Park when taking the Grade 3 Skip Away by 2 1/2 lengths, finishing 1 3/16 miles in 1:53 4/5. Next came a game second to Successful Dan in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, where he left Mucho Macho Man well adrift in third. Fort Larned threw in a subpar effort when only eighth in the Stephen Foster, but he rebounded in the aforementioned Cornhusker, turning the tables on Successful Dan, and now avenged himself on Ron the Greek here.
Fort Larned is out of the winning Broad Brush mare Arlucea, who is also the dam of Grade 1-placed Izarra and stakes-placed Moonport. She is out of Bayakoa, the nation's top older mare in 1989-90. Bayakoa was campaigned by Janis Whitham and her late husband, Frank, and she is the granddam of multiple Grade 1 queen Affluent.