Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned stumbled and dumped his jockey coming out of the starting gate, then led the field to the finish line while riderless in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap won by Discreet Dancer on Saturday.
Brian Hernandez Jr. wasn’t hurt in the mishap involving Fort Larned, who was making his season debut. The 5-year-old star picked himself up and completed the race sans jockey.
”The second jump out of the gate, he stumbled badly and fell on his face,” Hernandez said. ”It’s really weird because he warmed up better today than he did before the Classic. He was really on his toes. He did everything right until that moment.”
Discreet Dancer avoided trouble with an alert break from the starting gate just to the inside of Fort Larned. He won by 5-1/4 lengths as the 9-5 favorite ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Todd Pletcher. Discreet Dancer ran the mile in 1 minute, 35.17 seconds.
Swagger Jack finished second, while Fort Loudon was another 1-1/4 lengths back in third.
Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned, said his horse grabbed his left front in the middle of his heel.
”Brian said he stood well and was just fresh getting back to the races. This was the first time anything like this has happened,” Wilkes said. ”He’s a very intelligent horse, and I’m glad he didn’t run off the track. We just want to make sure he’s OK, most importantly. It’ll take a few days to make sure he’s OK because he fell on his head.”
Discreet Dancer pressed the early pace set by Fort Loudon before taking over the lead on the turn.
”Obviously, we benefited from the bad luck for the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, but we’re happy to win and we felt he was going to give us a good effort,” Pletcher said by phone from Tampa Bay Downs, where he saddled undefeated Verrazano to a dominant victory in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby.