Friday, January 19, 2018
Sports

Tampa Bay Downs grad Fort Larned wins Breeders' Cup Classic

ARCADIA, Calif. — Fort Larned, a 9-1 long shot, led all the way to win the $5 million Classic by a half-length Saturday, capping a weekend of upsets at the Breeders' Cup.

Brian Hernandez, aboard the winner, celebrated his 27th birthday with the biggest victory of his career. Game On Dude, the 7-5 favorite who was beaten in the closing strides in the race a year ago, was seventh in the field of 12.

"Fort Larned just gave us the greatest birthday present ever," said Hernandez, who rides mostly in racing's minor leagues at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., and Kentucky Downs in Franklin. He was the leading rider at both tracks this year.

Fort Larned, who won the $60,000 Challenger Stakes this year at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, ran 1¼ miles in 2:00.11 in the showcase race of the two-day world championships at Santa Anita Park. Just four favorites won in the event's 15 races.

Fort Larned, a 4-year-old colt, paid $20.80 to win. Trainer Ian Wilkes had never won such a big race. "I knew we were good when he broke sharp," Wilkes said. "That's where Brian won the race. We broke sharp, and Game On Dude broke bad."

Game On Dude's trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has won many big races but never the Classic, and he lost with Game On Dude for the second straight year. Game On Dude ran "probably the worst race of his life," Baffert said.

"It was a tough day for me, but I've had tougher," said Baffert, who went 0-for-9 on the weekend to end a year in which he also had a heart attack in March and finished second in each Triple Crown race. "(Baseball great) Joe Torre told me that you've got to forget it."

Mucho Macho Man was second, and Flat Out was third.

Flat Out is trained by Bill Mott, who was trying to duplicate his 2011 feat of winning the Ladies' Classic and the Classic (with Drosselmeyer).

Mott got the first half of the double, winning the Ladies' Classic on Friday, again with Tampa Bay Downs graduate Royal Delta. He had three horses in the Classic; the others were Ron the Greek, who finished fourth, and To Honor and Serve, 10th. "I don't think we have any huge excuse," he said.

The Classic spotlight belonged to Fort Larned, an unheralded horse named for an old post in Kansas that protected the Santa Fe Trail, a jockey who rides in racing's minor leagues, and a low-profile trainer.

"The prestige of winning this race in front of the world is unbelievable," said Hernandez, who won the Eclipse Award for top apprentice jockey in 2004 after graduating high school and was aboard Rachel Alexandra for several of her early races.

He rebounded this year after injuring a shoulder at Ellis Park last summer. He spent some of his recovery time cleaning stalls.

Upsets dominated six of Saturday's nine races, with Little Mike pulling off the biggest, winning the $3 million Turf at 17-1 odds.

Rosie Napravnik joined Julie Krone as the only female jockeys to win a Cup race when she guided 6-5 favorite Shanghai Bobby to a head victory over He's Had Enough in the $2 million Juvenile.

Fort Larned capped a big weekend for Tampa Bay Downs connections at the Cup. It was the second consecutive year Downs graduates won the Ladies' Classic and the Classic. Two Downs horsemen recorded their first Cup victories Saturday: Jockey Willie Martinez rode 13-1 shot Trinniberg to a victory in the Sprint, and trainer William Bradley won the Filly and Mare Sprint with favorite Groupie Doll. On Friday, Downs graduate Zagora captured the Filly and Mare Turf.

Times correspondent Don Jensen contributed to this report.

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