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Submitted by Gasper Moschera on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Churchill Downs: Fort Larned to stay home for final Breeders’ Cup prep

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Fort Larned, the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, will make his next start Sept. 28 in the new Homecoming Classic at his home track of Churchill Downs and not the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park the same day, as had been originally planned.

Trainer Ian Wilkes said he had a change of heart after evaluating all the factors involved in getting Fort Larned back to the $5 million BC Classic, which is set for Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

“The Breeders’ Cup is the objective,” said Wilkes. “This is one less ship. Missing the Woodward kind of forced my hand. All we want to do is get him back to California in the best shape we can.”

Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. was aboard Fort Larned Tuesday at Churchill Downs for a five-furlong work that came in 59.80 seconds over a fast track. Wilkes said afterward he was pleased with the move and that the horse will have one more breeze before this next race.

The Tuesday work was the second for Fort Larned since he was scratched from the Aug. 31 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, four weeks after he faded to fifth as the 6-5 favorite in the Whitney Handicap. Wilkes withdrew Fort Larned from the Woodward two days before the race, saying the 5-year-old horse had a “hind-end issue.”

Before the Whitney, Fort Larned was a highly impressive 6 1/4-length winner of the June 15 Stephen Foster at Churchill, earning a 115 Beyer Speed Figure.

The $175,000 Homecoming Classic is the richest and the only newly created race among eight stakes at the 12-day September meet at Churchill. The 1 1/8-mile race will be run at night as part of a Downs After Dark program that also will include the $100,000 Jefferson Cup for 3-year-olds, the only turf stakes of the meet.

According to Churchill racing secretary Ben Huffman, possible opponents for Fort Larned from a nominations list of 28 for the Homecoming Classic are Hymn Book, Agent di Nozzo, Big Town, Street Serenade, and Windswept. Entries will be drawn Sunday.

The Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup, which is run at 1 1/4 miles, is expected to be the final prep for a number of BC Classic candidates, including Alpha, Cross Traffic, Flat Out, Orb, and Palace Malice.

Owned and bred by Janis Whitham, Fort Larned finished third as a lukewarm favorite last year in the Jockey Club Gold before leading all the way in the 1 1/4-mile BC Classic at Santa Anita at 9-1 and earning a 117 Beyer. Overall, he has 9 wins from 23 starts and earnings of just more than $4 million.

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