Discreet Dancer Wins Gulfstream Park Handicap; Fort Larned Loses Rider

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Discreet Dancer wins the Gulfstream Park Handicap Discreet Dancer wins the Gulfstream Park Handicap

One jump out of the starting gate and the anticipation of witnessing the 2013 debut of Fort Larned spiked Saturday at Gulfstream Park. One jump more and hopes of watching the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner make a triumphant return were shockingly dashed as the 5-year-old star stumbled and tumbled, unseating jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

Fort Larned sprints ahead of the field in the Gulfstream Park Handicap

Fort Larned sprints ahead of the field in the Gulfstream Park Handicap

Discreet Dancer, who managed to avoid trouble with an alert break from the starting gate just to the outside of the fallen 4-5 favorite, went on to win the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) with a thoroughly dominating performance over his four remaining rivals. However, his 5 ¼-length victory was overshadowed by the misfortune of Fort Larned, who picked himself up and showed the field the way to the finish line while running riderless.

“The second jump out of the gate, he stumbled badly and fell on his face. I don’t know what else to say,” said Hernandez, who was uninjured in the mishap. “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.”

Trainer Ian Wilkes said Fort Larned grabbed his left front in the middle of the heel while “overreaching” in his second jump.

“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.”

With Fort Larned out of the race, Discreet Dancer, the 9-5 favorite ridden by Javier Castellano, took total control of the mile handicap, in which he was slated to receive six pounds from the favored 124-pound high weight. The Todd Pletcher-trained 4-year-old pressed the early pace set by Fort Loudon along the backstretch before taking over the lead on the turn and powering away to a commanding victory.

“We were pleased with his first race back. We thought it was a good performance and we thought he’d move forward for this race. 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 today,” said Pletcher by phone from Tampa Bay Downs, where minutes earlier he saddled undefeated Verrazano for a dominating victory in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

Swagger Jack, the 6-1 fourth betting choice ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., closed to finish second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Fort Loudon, the 9-2 third choice ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez. Discreet Dancer, who captured a six-furlong sprint at Gulfstream on Feb. 6 after an 11-month layoff, ran the mile in 1:35.17.

“My plan was to break out of the gate and get a good position because my horse is a speed horse. My goal was to wait for Fort Larned and see where he would go. I had a beautiful post in the race and could do whatever I wanted. I could control the pace. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for Fort Larned, he stumbled out of the gate really bad. Thank god both him and Brian are OK, but that’s the game sometimes it doesn’t go our way,” said Castellano, who rode five winners on Saturday’s card. “When I saw the horse stumble I thought I would be able to win, so I held my horse and didn’t let him go too fast trying to save something for the end. It worked out perfect for us.”

Discreet Dancer has raced exclusively at Gulfstream Park during his five-race career that was interrupted by injury following a third-place finish in last year’s Fountain of Youth (G2) – his only loss. He’s not likely to make his sixth start at Gulfstream.

“It’s doubtful we’ll be able to run him back at Gulfstream, so we’ll just take our time and figure it out,” Pletcher said.

See the full chart here.

$300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) Quotes

Trainer Todd Pletcher (Discreet Dancer, by phone from Tampa Bay Downs): “We were pleased with his first back. We thought it was a good performance and we thought he’d move forward for this race. 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 today.

(Next start) “I honestly don’t know. It’s doubtful we’ll be able to run him back at Gulfstream so we’ll just take our time and figure it out.”

Jockey Javier Castellano (Discreet Dancer): “My plan was to break out of the gate and get a good position because my horse is a speed horse. My goal was to wait for Fort Larned and see where he would go. I had a beautiful post in the race and could do whatever I wanted. I could control the pace. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for Fort Larned, he stumbled out of the gate really bad. Thank god both him and Brian are OK, but that’s the game sometimes it doesn’t go our way. When I saw the horse stumble I thought I would be able to win, so I held my horse and didn’t let him go too fast trying to save something for the end. It worked out perfect for us.

“Fortunately Fort Larned didn’t put anyone in danger when he took off in front of us and everyone was able to see how the race would develop. I’m very fortunate today and very thankful to Todd. He put a great effort into this horse. This horse was a sprinter and now he stretched him to a mile and was able to get it done. I give Todd all the credit.”

Trainer Ian Wilkes (Fort Larned): “He grabbed his left front right in the middle of the heel. His second jump he just overreached and stumbled. Brian said he stood well and was just fresh getting back to the races. This was the first time anything like this has happened.

(Smiling) “He won, I didn’t get paid, that’s the problem. 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.”

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. (Fort Larned): ”The second jump out of the gate he stumbled really bad and fell on his face. I don’t know what else to say. It’s really weird because he warmed up better today than he did before the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic. He was really on his toes. He did everything right until that moment.”

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  • Princessspiro

    Looking at the picture you have posted I am fascinated that Fort Larned placed himself in the exact perfect place on the race track, without the interference of a jockey. I think the horses are better trained than many of the current jockeys ( other than the top riders of course)since how many jockeys receive any formal training or mentoring? Maybe they can pick up some good pointers from Gary Stevens. I am glad the horse was unhurt, thank goodness.

  • Kathy Young

    Quite a day at Gulfstream–Race 5 had three horses down, now this. 

  • nu-fan

    Watching this race was a bit frightening for me.  That was truly a terrible stumble.  Glad that the jockey is okay but hope that, in the days ahead, we will find out that this horse is okay as well.  Very frightening.  The camera angle did not pick up the horse as it raced way ahead of the other horses but understood from the TV commentators that he “won” by a 16th of a mile.

    • Princessspiro

      I watched the replay of the race after i posted the above comment. I agree with you, it was horrible to see the horse fall so badly and amazing that he righted himself and completed the race. i realize that horses even when injured can do unbelievable things just on sheer willpower so i truly hope he is okay, and glad the jockey is as well, but luckily for him he was behind everyone else and landed well. I still do not understand how a horse who is standing perfectly still in the gate can stumble so badly on 2 steps, how does that happen?

  • Beachy

    Ugh…I didn’t see it live, just watched the replay over at DRF.  Wish I could see it on a big screen, but what seems to be worse for Fort Larned is not his face touching the ground(it doesn’t look like he did that very hard) but all the stumbling around in front of the gate.  I’m glad he’s ok so far, and I know they will check him out closely.  He really dumped Mr. Hernandez, like he didn’t want a rider today.  Go figure.  Prayers that everyone, including Fort Larned of course, is ok.  

  • Don Reed

    As if Todd Pletcher needs any further help by the fates, to be the beneficiary of such random mishaps.  Of all the trainers!  I don’t begrudge him personally, but this is ridiculous.

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