Fort Larned dominates Stephen Foster

Fort Larned won the $536,300, Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap by 6-1/4 lengths Saturday night at Churchill Downs, giving him a chance to defend his Breeders’ Cup Classic title.

The 5-year-old owned by Janis Whitham and trained by Ian Wilkes broke first from the rail and never trailed under jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. Fort Larned ran 1-1/8 miles in 1:47.45, the second-fastest Foster behind Victory Gallop’s track-record 1:47.28 in 1999.

The winner returned $8.60 for a $2 win bet and earned $329,181 to push his career total to $4,031,417. Golden Ticket was second, and Ron the Greek, the 2012 Foster winner, was third.

The Stephen Foster was the first "Win and You’re In" race for the year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, earning Fort Larned an automatic spot in the Nov. 2 event at Santa Anita and $10,000 toward travel costs.

It was the first win this year for Fort Larned. He stumbled out of the gate and unseated Hernandez in the Gulfstream Handicap in his season debut and finished fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap on April 13.

Wilkes, who said he second-guessed himself after the Oaklawn performance, told Hernandez to get the jump in the six-horse field that was long on talent but without any other expected front-runners.

"Take Charge (Indy) likes to sit (off the lead), and Successful Dan is a stalker," Wilkes said after the race. "We were really the only speed in the race. If I didn’t do it, I was crazy."

Fort Larned had a small lead over favorite Take Charge Indy through the first three-quarters of a mile before putting that rival away at the top of the stretch and earning his third Grade 1 win.

"We’ve kind of figured that if you let him be fast early, he finishes faster," Hernandez said.

Successful Dan, Pool Play and Take Charge Indy completed the field.

"That horse just got away from us," said Charlie LoPresti, trainer of Successful Dan. "He was gone. Nobody was going to close any ground on him."

The win avenged Fort Larned’s performance in last year’s Foster, when he finished last in the field of eight. This time, he showed he’s ready for a repeat trip to the Breeders’ Cup.

"This was huge, to be able to do it here in Louisville at our home track," Hernandez said. "When Fort Larned didn’t show up last year, Ian • that was one of the biggest things he kept saying, ‘We need to go ahead and show up big in this one to prove that what he did last year (in the Breeders’ Cup) wasn’t a fluke.’ "

Wilkes said he would next point Fort Larned toward the $750,000, Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 3 at Saratoga, a race he also won last year.

"It’s always been the end of the year goal to get back to the Breeders’ Cup," Wilkes said. "We’ll go to the Whitney and then take it one race at a time."

In other graded stakes Saturday:

• Funny Proposition upset 2012 champion older female Royal Delta in the Grade 2 Fleur De Lis Handicap, winning by five lengths. Trained by Mark Casse, Funny Proposition rushed out to an early lead and kicked clear in the stretch under jockey Joel Rosario, paying $13.40.

It was the first start for Royal Delta &mash; last year’s Fleur De Lis winner and a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic — since she finished 10th in the Dubai World Cup on March 30. Giving eight pounds to the winner, Royal Delta was second in the field of five.

• Code West held off Uncaptured by a head to earn his first stakes victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn. The win was trainer Bob Baffert’s 100th at Churchill Downs and his fourth in the race. Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Code West ran 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.37 and paid $6.20. Uncaptured was second and Abstraction third.

• Kitten’s Dumplings, favorite in the field of 11, won the Grade 3 Regret by 2-1/4 lengths over Praia.

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