Fort Larned, in an effort reminiscent of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) score, dominated the 32nd running of the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs on June 15.
The co-starting high weight at 121 pounds, Fort Larned zipped 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:47.45 – the second fastest Stephen Foster, just .17 seconds off 1999 winner Victory Gallop’s stakes and track record of 1:47.28.
Brian Hernandez Jr. rode the winner for trainer Ian Wilkes and owner/breeder Janis Whitham.
“That was amazing,” Hernandez said. “He’s a true champion and he showed it again tonight.”
The $329,181 winner’s share of the purse jumped Fort Larned’s earnings to $4,031,417, which ranks 65th all-time in North America. Additionally, the Foster was the year’s first Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Classic Division Challenge Race, and Fort Larned is entitled to an automatic entry into the Nov. 2 Classic at Santa Anita with $100,000 in pre-entry and entry fees waived and a $10,000 travel stipend.
Fort Larned took control from the start and dictated terms from the inside, cutting quarter-mile fractions of :23.69, :46.96, 1:10.48 and 1:34.53. Take Charge Indy, the six-length Alysheba (G2) winner on Kentucky Oaks Day, attempted to keep up but would falter to finish last in the field of six older horses as the 9-5 favorite.
Fort Larned remained unchallenged throughout and turned for home with a 2 ½-length lead only to draw off in the stretch to prevail by 6 ¼ lengths – the second-largest Foster winning-margin to Street Cry-IRE’s 6 ½-length win over Dollar Bill in 2002.
“We were going down the backside and were cooking right along and the poles were going by pretty fast, but he was always doing it well within himself so I wasn’t really worried about it,” Hernandez said. “When we turned for home, I pulled the stick through and he switched leads like the Fort Larned of old.”
Golden Ticket, last year’s dead-heat winner of the Travers (G1), trailed the winner by 10 lengths at the half-mile pole but moved up on the turn to prove second best.
Fort Larned, a son of E Dubai out of the Broad Brush mare Arlucea, paid $8.60, $5.20 and $3.60 as the fourth betting choice. Golden Ticket, at odds of 11.80-1 under 117 pounds and Joel Rosario, paid $7.20 and $3.40. Defending race champ Ron the Greek, ridden by Jose Lezcano and tacking 120 pounds, was another four lengths back in third and paid $3.20. Successful Dan, Pool Play and Take Charge Indy completed the order of finish.
Favorites have faltered in the Foster for seven of the last eight years.
The Foster was redemption for Fort Larned after two frustrating starts this season. He made his 5-year-old debut in March’s Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) but lost Hernandez after stumbling at the start and proceeded to race around the track without the guidance of a rider and finished well in front of the field. Next time out, he finished a lackluster fifth as the odds-on favorite in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2).
“He ran unbelievable,” Wilkes said. “It was gratifying to get the horse back and to prove that he’s as good as I thought he was and show he wasn’t a one-year wonder.”