Fort Larned produced the race of his life to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) by a half-length over Florida-bred Mucho Macho Man on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
Under jockey Brian Hernandez, Fort Larned led the entire 1 ¼- mile journey. The highly anticipated $5 million test, headlined by race favorite Game on Dude, was strictly a two-horse race at the head of the lane as Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man, ridden by Mike Smith, pulled away from the other 10 runners.
Hernandez, celebrating his 27th birthday on Saturday, orchestrated a flawless trip. After dictating the pace, he urged Fort Larned for everything he had in deep stretch. The son of E Dubai was relentless along the inside and simply refused to let Mucho Macho Man pass him in the lane. Fort Larned ran 1¼ miles in 2:00.11 in the showcase race of the two-day world championships that was shown in prime time for the first time. The 4-year-old colt paid $20.80 to win.
“The prestige of winning this race in front of the world is unbelievable,” said Hernandez. “Fort Larned just gave us the greatest birthday present ever. In the post parade he showed me how fired up he was. He was on his game today.”
Owner Janis Whitham is no stranger to success on the Breeders’ Cup stage, having been there twice before with the classy South American runner Bayakoa (ARG) who won the Distaff, now the Ladies Classic, in 1989 and 1990 for trainer Ron McAnally.
When asked how Fort Larned’s victory compares to those achieved by Bayakoa, Whitham responded, “It’s great, it couldn’t compare any better. It’s just great.”
“Larned is a town. We live in Kansas and it’s east and a little north of us. It’s been rebuilt and it’s a tourist attraction,” she said. “Fort Larned is still there and he is named after that fort.”
Fort Larned’s biggest previous win came in the Whitney at Saratoga in August. The colt finished third behind winner Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in September. Flat Out closed late to finish third in the Classic on Saturday.
“No one, I don’t think, was too worried about us coming off our last race,” Wilkes said. “We could do what we wanted to do and without having that bull’s eye. I knew we were good when he broke sharp. That’s where Brian won the race. We broke sharp and Game On Dude broke bad.
“It’s always nice to fly under the radar,” he added.
Fort Larned received his early training lessons in Florida from Junior Serna at Roy Lerman’s Lambholm South.
All the week’s attention had focused on Baffert and Mott, two Breeders’ Cup veterans.
Baffert went 0 for 9 on the weekend, with Game On Dude failing to deliver the Hall of Famer a first-ever win in the Classic. It was the end of a bummer year for him after surviving a heart attack in March and finishing second in each of the Triple Crown races.
“It was a tough day for me, but I’ve had tougher,” the white-haired trainer said. “Joe Torre told me that you’ve got to forget it.”
Torre, the retired manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, co-owns Game On Dude.
Mott saddled Royal Delta to capture Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1).
Fort Larned/Benoit photo