Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man Prepare to Square Off in Whitney
Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned had his penultimate tune-up Saturday morning for his title defense in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap, breezing five furlongs in 1:03.81 over the main track.
“It was a little slower than what I wanted, but the track was a little dead this morning, and it was a work to set up a work,” said Ian Wilkes, who trains Fort Larned for owner Janis Whitham. “We'll come back [next week] and get a major work with him off this.”
Fort Larned, who earned his first Grade 1 in last year's 1 1/8-mile Whitney, enters this year's edition off a eye-catching 6 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 15 at Churchill Downs. It was the 5-year-old's first win since the 2012 Classic, having lost his rider two strides out of the gate in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 9 and then finishing a non-threatening fifth in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap a month later.
“The first one, the stumble, that was a thing which took more out of him than you think,” said Wilkes. “If I'd stuck with my original plan [and not run at Oaklawn] that would be fine, but I could second-guess myself all day long.
“He got a lot out of his last race,” he added. “He ran fast [1:47.45] and the track wasn't a fast track that night.”
Grade 1 Whitney hopeful Mucho Macho Man also went to the main track Saturday morning, where he was credited with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.61 under exercise rider Nick Petro.
“He had a great work this morning, and we're looking forward to the Whitney,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo of the Reeves Thoroughbred Racing color-bearer. “He'll have one more work; the day will be dependant on the weather.”
Mucho Macho Man, second in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic, has made two starts this year, finishing seventh in the Sunshine Millions Classic on January 9 at Gulfstream Park and third in the Criminal Type overnight stakes on June 14 at Belmont Park.
“His last race was a good comeback race for him,” said Ritvo. “It reminded us of the Alysheba last year, when he finished third and then came up and won the [Grade 2] Suburban Handicap.”